|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
July 31, 2007
Interview of the Vice President by Larry King, CNN
Vice President Ceremonial Office
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
11:14 A.M EDT
Q We're located in the Vice Presidential Ceremonial Office; it's in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, with the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Thanks for giving us the time, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's good to see you again, Larry.
Q Always good to see you.
Q: How do you deal with it when public opinion polls are stridently against the policy we have? Republican senators like Lugar and Hagel and Voinovich and Domenici questioning it -- do you ever, as an intelligent person, look in the mirror and say, maybe I'm wrong?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the way you have to operate in these jobs -- and the President, obviously, is the one who bears the greatest burden; he's the one who makes the decisions, but I clearly support him -- you have to do it on the basis of what you think is right and what's best for the country. The polls are notoriously unreliable, in the sense that they change all the time, they bounce around all over the place. That if you looked simply at public opinion, for example, a lot of the key decisions in our history would never have been pursued or followed through on. Washington never would have carried through for seven years of the Revolution. Abraham Lincoln would never have stayed with it in order to win the Civil War. We would have been two separate nations by then.
You can look at major moments in our history and be thankful that we had leaders and Presidents who made decisions, stuck with them and saw them through to the end.
Q But in all cases they did question themselves. In all cases they said, well, let's look at it this way. Don't you? I mean, the question is don't you ever say maybe I'm wrong?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think what we do is we look at it in terms of trying to decide what's the right thing to do, and weigh the evidence. And there's a lot of debate and discussion. We went through the exercise at the beginning of this year. You may remember when the President decided to put more forces into Baghdad. That's a time when we evaluated a whole range of options, when we talked to a wide number of people with a variety of viewpoints, met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked to outside military experts, as well as the politicos on the ground and made a judgment, the President made a decision then. And I think it was the right decision, felt it was the one to go into Iraq.
Q In retrospect you would still go into Iraq?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q So those 3,000-plus lives have not died in vain?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, sir. Larry, you worry about every single casualty and --
Q Do you feel the burden of it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Absolutely, when you're in one of those positions the President obviously has the biggest burden. I shared some of that when I was Secretary of Defense, during Desert Storm. There are times when you make decisions to commit military forces, when you know that one of the results of that is going to be that there are going to be American casualties, that American soldiers are going to die. It's one of the most difficult things anybody has to do. It goes with being President of the United States, and we have to have somebody prepared to make those decisions. And I firmly believe, Larry, that the decisions we've made with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan have been absolutely the sound ones in terms of the overall strategy.
Q Although there were mistakes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, sure. Yes, there are always things in war that happen that nobody anticipated; surprises, things that don't go exactly as planned. That's the nature of warfare. But that doesn't mean the strategy isn't the correct strategy, that the objective isn't the right objective.
Q Does it pain you when Brent Scowcroft says, "This is not the Dick Cheney I knew"?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well --
Q I mean, you were close friends.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure, and I don't bear any grudges towards Brent. Brent doesn't walk in my shoes these days. He's not in the job I'm in. He's not responsible for making the decisions the President has had to make and those of us who support him and advise him.
Q Does it pain you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not especially. It goes with the turf, Larry. If I were in business to be popular, I suppose I'd be worried about my poll ratings and so forth. I'm not. I came here to do a job. I'm not running for any office, myself. I made the decision when I signed on with the President that the only agenda I would have would be his agenda, that I was not going to be like most Vice Presidents -- and that was angling, trying to figure out how I was going to be elected President when his term was over with. When he's finished, I'm finished. We walk out of here on January 20th of '09, and I think we'll be able to hold our heads high knowing we did the best we could for the country. That's what counts more than anything else.
Q Wouldn't you like to be liked?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, up to a point. But if you wanted to be liked, I should never have gotten involved in politics in the first place. Remember, success for a politician is 50 percent plus one, you don't have to have everybody on board.
Q Okay. Let's go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q Why were you wrong?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think my estimate at the time -- and it was wrong; it turned out to be incorrect -- was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq, elected an interim government, then ratifying a constitution, then electing a permanent government; that they had had significant success, we'd rounded up Saddam Hussein. I thought there were a series of these milestones that would in fact undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point. That clearly didn't happen. I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust.
And the other thing that happened, of course -- this was prior to the actions of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi with his bombing of the mosque up at Samarra in early '06, that in effect helped to precipitate some of the sectarian conflict that led to a lot of the Shia on Sunni battles.
Q In that same interview you said that the Iraqis were well on their way to being able to defend themselves. Why not? Why aren't they? Why aren't we gone?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They're not there yet because the job is not done yet, Larry. When you think about what's been accomplished -- in, what, about four years now since we originally launched in there -- they have in fact held three national elections, and written a constitution. There are a significant number of Iraqis now serving in the armed forces, serving as part of the security forces. We have made progress on that front. We've also obviously with the surge the President decided on last January I think made significant progress now into the course of the summer.
The real test is whether or not the strategy that was put in place for this year will in fact produce the desired results.
Q Will those results be in place on that day in '09 when you leave?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe so. I think we're seeing already -- from others; don't take it from me, look at the piece that appeared yesterday in The New York Times -- not exactly a friendly publication -- but a piece by Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack on the situation in Iraq. They're just back from visiting over there. They both have been strong critics of the war, both worked in the prior administration; but now saying that they think there's a possibility, indeed, that we could be successful. So we'll know a lot more in September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back and report to the Congress and the President on the situation in Iraq and whether or not we're making progress. Obviously we want to get it done as quickly as possible.
Q You don't know what to expect, though, do you? Or do you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's going to show that we will have made significant progress. The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that indeed the Petraeus plan is in fact producing results.
Now, admittedly, I've been on one side of this argument from the very beginning. I urge people to have an open mind, to listen to General Petraeus when he comes back, but also look at what others have to say.
Q Does it bother you that the Iraqi parliament is taking August off, while men are over there? And women.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's better than taking two months off, which was their original plan. Our Congress of course takes the month of August off to go back home, so I don't think we can say that they shouldn't go home at all. But obviously we're eager to have them complete their work. And they have, in fact, passed about 60 pieces of legislation this year. They have been fairly productive.
Now, there are major issues yet to be addressed and be resolved that they're still working on. But they did -- I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May that we didn't appreciate the notion that they were going to take a big part of the summer off and they did cut that in half.
Q Do you think, as you look at it yourself, that you -- you're a lifetime politician, right?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's how I spent most of my career.
Q You should have been more public on this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: More "public"?
Q Yes, out there more.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As a spokesman?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know, that's always debatable.
Q You think so?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. I think I try to get out as much as I can. I try not to overdo it. There are times when I'm a good spokesman on a particular issue; other times when somebody else is. The President is out there a lot, obviously.
That's part of his job. And I think people would rather hear from the President than they would the Vice President. But I've done a lot of it and will continue to do a lot of it, as long as I'm Vice President.
Q By the way, is General Petraeus the be-all and end-all?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: General Petraeus is a very impressive officer. I know him. I've watched him over the years when he commanded the 101st, when we first launched into Iraq four years ago. And I spent some time with him out at Fort Leavenworth when he had the command out there. He is a very, very highly regarded officer, for good reason. He's a great soldier, and he's also something of a scholar -- a Ph.D. from Princeton. He's a man who's a very thoughtful advocate of counterinsurgency doctrine. He's really the author, if you will, of the current counterinsurgency doctrine in the U.S. Army, who's having a chance to put in practice what he has believed and developed over the years.
I don't want to put the whole burden on him. He's --
Q It seems to be he's mentioned everywhere.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He's mentioned everywhere, and it's because he is, I think, very highly regarded by the troops, and he obviously has the confidence of the President and many of us in the administration.
Now, there are a lot of people working at it, too. General Ray Odierno, who is his number two, superb officer, man who's spent about 28 months in Iraq, himself, so far, whose son served and lost an arm, who's dedicated, just as dedicated as Dave Petraeus is to the success of this enterprise.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of people, especially the young men and women serving, who deserve credit for the effort that's currently underway.
Q Let's touch some other bases. To which branch of government do you belong? Are you executive or legislative, or both? We were a little confused over recent statements that you're not in either.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: An either/or -- maybe --
Q This building seems to be --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- say both is better. (Laughter.) This has been the office, Ceremonial Office of the Vice President, really since Richard Nixon was Vice President under the Eisenhower administration. But the fact is, for the 150 years before that, the Vice President didn't even have an office downtown. His office was only on Capitol Hill.
I have a foot in both camps, if you will, Larry. As Vice President, obviously, I'm next in line to succeed the President if something happens to him. I have an office in the West Wing of the White House. I advise the President. I'm a member of the National Security Council. Those are all executive functions, granted to me basically by the President.
At the same time, I have responsibilities under the Constitution for certain things up on Capitol Hill, in the Senate. I am the President of the Senate, the presiding officer of the Senate. I cast tie-breaking votes there. My paycheck actually comes from the Senate.
So the fact is, the Vice President is sort of a weird duck in the sense that you do have some duties that are executive and some are legislative.
Q Does that mean, therefore, there are certain areas you can claim one or the other and not be responsible for one or the other?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I suppose. I try not to do that. The Vice President doesn't really run anything, obviously. In the executive branch, you do only what the President asks you to do -- he gives you assignments -- but whatever authority you have is delegated by the President himself. The Constitution, on the other hand, provides for your role as the President of Senate.
Q We have an op-ed piece by Walter Mondale, former Vice President, held your job. And at that time -- I guess up to that time, he would be considered the most powerful Vice President. He wrote that after 9/11, "Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center in the office of the Vice President. He was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the President." He also accused you of having a "near total aversion to the notion of accountability." How would you respond to this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think Walter obviously doesn't know or understand or chooses not to know how I, in fact, have operated. That's just not the case. Fact is, my job has been to serve the President. I've been very clear about that from the beginning to the extent that I've got staff working for me or that I'm actively involved in the processes to pursue his agenda. I've never had a separate agenda. I don't operate -- I don't freelance. In terms of accountability, I'm accountable to him.
Q Were you surprised to see that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not especially. I don't have any personal difficulties with Walter Mondale. Politically, we disagreed a lot. He was part of the Carter administration that I thought, frankly, was one of the less effective administrations in recent history. And I was a big supporter of Ronald Reagan's when he beat Mondale overwhelmingly in 1984.
Q Don't you think this administration has also had its credibility problems?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, every administration does, to some extent, Larry. But I think in the end, it will depend upon the results and what ultimately happens. I think history will judge us well, if we're successful in achieving the objectives we've set. I think the President has made some crucial decisions, very important decisions, very difficult decisions. But I think what we've done in Afghanistan, for example, and in Iraq, which represents liberating 50 million people from two of the worst regimes in modern times, is a very significant achievement.
I think what we've done to defend the nation successfully now for nearly six years against a further attack, because of the tough decisions we've made because of things like the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the Patriot Act, and because we've gotten aggressive with our forces overseas and prevented further attacks against the United States. Nobody six years ago would have believed that it would be possible, after 9/11, for us to go this long and not get hit again. But we have, we have succeeded at it.
Q So how come --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think when the history is written that, in fact, it will reflect credit upon this President and upon his administration.
Q Are you shocked, then, that people hold it in low esteem? The polls are so --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
Q I mean, you should be shocked, based on the record you have.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't worry about the polls. You can't worry about the polls. I saw Jerry Ford, when I served with him, when I first met you, Jerry was -- President Ford was down -- it was 70 percent when he started. He ended up in the 30s. Later, 30 years later, obviously, just last year, when he passed away and we had memorial services and so forth for him, he was held in very high regard; across the country his praises were sung for some of the really tough decisions he made that were very unpopular at the time.
Q Moving on to other areas. Alberto Gonzales -- do you stand by him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do. Al is a good man, a good friend, in a difficult assignment.
Q Are you troubled by what appears to have happened -- the appearance of him not telling the truth?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to get into the specifics with respect to his testimony and the questions that were asked. I know Al on a personal and professional basis, and I hold him in high regard.
Q You're going to stand by him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q No doubt about that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Correct.
Q In that regard, The New York Times -- which, as you said, is not your favorite -- reports it was you who dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital in 2004 to push Ashcroft to certify the President's intelligence-gathering program. Was it you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall -- first of all, I haven't seen the story. And I don't recall that I gave instructions to that effect.
Q That would be something you would recall.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would think so. But certainly I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and had been responsible and working with General Hayden and George Tenet to get it to the President for approval. By the time this occurred, it had already been approved about 12 times by the Department of Justice. There was nothing new about it.
Q So you didn't send them to get permission.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall that I was the one who sent them to the hospital.
Q How about those who would say, sometimes, even though it may be fine, someone should leave if they're bringing trouble to the -- if Gonzales is hurting the administration, he should of his own volition leave.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President makes that judgment, Larry.
Q But he can make the judgment, too.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But the President is the one who has to evaluate the individuals who serve for them. He has confidence in Al, and that's good enough for me.
Q How about Arlen Specter? Do you respect him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do.
Q He thinks he should leave.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I disagree with Arlen from time to time, and I disagree with him on that issue.
Q The Scooter Libby trial. Did it pain you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q Did you think he should have been pardoned?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am glad that the President saw fit to commute Scooter's sentence. I thought that was a good outcome, and I supported the President's decision.
Q Down the road, do you think he should be pardoned? You can still pardon, can't you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to speculate on that, Larry. It's not my decision to make. The President did make the decision, and I supported that decision.
Q I haven't seen him; I know him. How is he doing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, he's doing well. He obviously went through a very, very difficult time, very hard for him and for his family. I think having the commutation of sentence decided has been a huge relief for him, but he still has a very difficult road. He's got -- obviously he needs to find work. He's got legal bills. He carries the burden of having been convicted. All those are not easy problems. But he's clearly in -- he's in good spirits and getting on with his life.
Q Do you keep in touch with him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Did you call him after the verdict?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've seen him, had dinner with him.
Q The Senate Judiciary Committee is subpoenaing Karl Rove in connection with the firing of federal prosecutors. Why shouldn't he appear?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There is a strong tradition that the President of the United States is entitled to have people around him who advise him who do not then have to go before the Congress and testify with respect to the advice they gave the President.
It's different for a Cabinet member, for example. If you're Secretary of Defense, you are confirmed by the Senate, you testify before the Senate, you have some accountability to the Senate or to the Congress for testimony. But when you're a senior advisor to the President, as Karl Rove has been, then you are not traditionally required to go testify before the Congress. So that element of executive privilege, confidentiality of communications between the President and his senior people is a very important one, and it shouldn't be violated. And I don't believe it will be in this case.
Q But the public might say, what have you got to hide? And that would be logical, what have you got to hide?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First of all, there's no charge. What's the allegation of the wrongdoing here? Frankly, there isn't anything. With respect to the U.S. attorneys, there's been, I think, a bit of a witch hunt on Capitol Hill, as they keep rolling over rocks hoping they can find something. But there really hasn't been anything come up that would suggest there was any wrongdoing of any kind. And in the meantime, the President feels strongly, and I do too -- I agree with him -- that it's important for us to pass on these offices we occupy to our successors in as good a shape as we found them. And that means protecting and preserving the integrity of those processes.
Q So he will not appear?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think an offer has been made to work out an arrangement that, in fact, the senior officials would meet with members of Congress, but not under oath, not in public, no transcript, to discuss these issues, and the committee has rejected that.
Q Running quickly on time, we've got one segment left. But quickly, on Saudi Arabia. The King has slammed the invasion of Iraq, and we sell arms. Contradiction?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, he disagreed with the invasion, but I think my experience with the King has been that he's a good friend of the United States. He may differ with us from time to time, we may have differences of opinion, but I've worked with him going back to the very early days, for example, of Operation Desert Storm, when I was Secretary of Defense. We've had a relationship with the Saudis going back 60 years. They are good friend and allies of the United States.
Q And you agree with the sale?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I support it. I think it's very important that our friends in the region out there, the Saudis and other states in the Gulf -- Kuwait, the Emirates, Oman, and so forth -- have the resources they need to be able to defend themselves and to be able to work with the United States to defend themselves. And they live in a very unstable and uncertain part of the world.
Q Al Qaeda up and running again in Pakistan -- are we going after them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we work closely with President Musharraf and his government in Pakistan. We've captured and killed a lot of al Qaeda in Pakistan. But it's obviously a sovereign state. They've got reason to go after al Qaeda.
Q When have they asked us to come in?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't expect that to happen. I think the relationship we have at present is a good one. We have been able to collaborate closely together on a wide range of operations. And I think we'll be able to continue doing that.
Q Would you make an overt move on Iran?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: For what reason?
Q For reasons of information you have that we don't.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not going to speculate about prospective operations.
Q How worried are you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm concerned about Iran. I think everybody is, and should be. We see a state that periodically announces their objective of the destruction of Israel, for example. Mr. Ahmadinejad, Prime Minister, periodically makes very threatening statements. They are actively pursuing the development of the capacity to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons. We've been working diplomatically with our friends in Europe and the EU to get them to give up those aspirations. So far they haven't responded. A great many people are concerned about Iran.
Q General Powell says he would close Guantanamo yesterday. Would you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. No, I think you need to have someplace to hold those individuals who have been captured during the global war on terror. I'm thinking of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This is a man we captured in Pakistan. He's the mastermind of 9/11. He probably has more responsibility than anybody else, possible exception of Osama bin Laden, for the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. He is now in custody. We need to hold him someplace. He's held at Guantanamo.
There are hundreds of people like that, and if you closed Guantanamo, you'd have to find someplace else to put these folks.
Q Do you have to torture them when they're there?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We don't do torture.
Q How come in the past, though, there's been a question on that? Have you ever said we support certain methods of physical harm?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We support the ability of certain agencies of the federal government to have the capacity to use enhanced techniques for interrogation. We have authorization that we got from the Congress, to in fact do that. And they do it under very careful safeguards and very stringent safeguards. We're careful not to torture. We're not in the business of torturing people. That would not be --
Q What does "enhanced" mean?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We don't discuss specific techniques because the last thing you want to do is tell your potential adversary what your techniques are, because that would allow them to train and practice to resist them.
Q A member of the Department of Defense sent Hillary Clinton a letter, saying she should not criticize, because it helps the enemy. Do you agree with that letter?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Didn't say she should not criticize. She was demanding the plans for withdrawal from Iraq.
Q Do you agree with that letter?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I agreed with the letter Eric Edelman wrote. I thought it was a good letter.
Q So you should not call for the plans for withdrawal?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, there's an important principle here, Larry, and that is -- and a debate over what our policy ought to be is perfectly legitimate. What we don't do is we don't get into the business of sharing operational plans -- we never have -- with the Congress. And to get into that business would be -- it would be for example, like saying during the course of Desert Storm we deployed Marines off the coast of Kuwait. We never planned to put those Marines ashore at Kuwait, but the Iraqis didn't know that. So they put five or six divisions down there to block that. We wouldn't release that kind of information or discuss that kind of information in advance of the operation.
When you get into the business of talking about operational planning by the Department of Defense, you don't share that as a general proposition until you're ready to actually go out and execute those orders, and then you might share it with the Congress at that point. But to get into the business now, where we've got all these contingencies, we always have got a lot of contingencies, where we're going to start shedding those to respond to the political charges, such as those that Senator Clinton made, I think would be unwise.
Q Two other things. People that worked for you, mostly, are working for Fred Thompson. Can we read something into that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm totally neutral in the upcoming presidential contest. I will support the Republican nominee. And the fact that others have signed on with Fred or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, they're all good men, I hope one of them is the next President of the United States, but I haven't gotten involved with any of those efforts.
Q I think they put a new -- Lynne Cheney was with you, right, when they put a new -- they put a new fibrillator or a new battery?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a whole new unit. It's the ICD, inter-cardio defibrillator, I think it's called. And the old one was about six years old, and they just take it out and plug in a new one, and away you go.
Q And they knocked you out, right?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, you're under when they do it. You go in at 8:00 a.m., I was out by noon. It's a relatively painless procedure.
Q It's never gone off, right?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's never gone off. It's fantastic technology, but I've never had to have it go off.
Q What are you going to do in February '09?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I haven't given it any thought.
Q Would you ever run for office?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have run for office --
Q I mean again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- now eight times. I wouldn't -- I've fulfilled my desires in that regard. I have no plans to seek office.
Q Would you take a government post in a Republican administration?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Probably not.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Probably not. I can't think of one. I've had a great tour, Larry. I've got the great privilege of serving in Congress for 10 years, with President Ford, four years as Secretary of Defense, eight years as the Vice President. It's been a tremendous experience, great career, but the time comes when you need to recognize it's over, and for me that will be January of '09.
Q And as Yogi said, "it ain't over 'til it's over."
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It ain't over 'til it's over, that's right. Good to see you again.
END 11:46 A.M. EDT