Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Under fire from Democrats, Cheney pushes back


Under fire from Democrats, Cheney pushes back

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With Vice President Dick Cheney under mounting fire, his office together with the White House and the Republican Party responded with a coordinated counter-attack on Tuesday, accusing Sen. Harry Reid of malicious conduct "unbecoming" his role as Democratic leader.

The White House response -- unusual in its hostile tone and coordination -- was sparked by Reid's charges that Cheney manipulated pre-war intelligence about Iraq and was "behind" the leaking of classified information to discredit White House critics.

Cheney's long-time chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted last month for obstructing justice, perjury and lying after a two-year investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Cheney has also come under withering criticism for spearheading an effort in Congress to exempt the CIA from an amendment by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain that would ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

The counter-attack against Reid may be a sign that the White House is planning a more aggressive campaign against its critics as polls show Bush's approval ratings at all-time lows.

"There's a dark cloud hanging over the White House. It's really a storm cloud. The vice president, who gets his authority from the president, sadly is in the middle of that storm," Reid told reporters.

Cheney was involved in "the manipulation of intelligence to sell the war in Iraq," said Reid, who also accused the vice president of being behind an energy policy that has put "big oil ahead of the American consumer."

"Leaking classified information to discredit White House critics, the vice president is behind that," Reid added.

Plame's identity was leaked to the media in July 2003 after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq.

Within minutes of each other, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, counsel to the vice president Steve Schmidt and the Republican National Committee all issued responses bashing Reid.

McClellan decried Reid's "rants" as "unbecoming of a leader of any party," and said Americans would question "whether Democrats are more concerned about the peoples' priorities or scoring political points at the expense of a dedicated public servant."

Schmidt called Reid's comments "unconscionable personal attacks and malicious," adding: "These are beneath the office of the Democratic leader."

Brian Jones, the RNC's communications director, said Reid's comments were "vicious" and accused him of spinning a "far-flung conspiracy theory."

Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, brushed aside the criticism, saying "the attack dogs on the right are just trying to personalize this debate."

Libby's indictment in the CIA leak probe has put a spotlight on Cheney's role and how his office made the case for the Iraq war.

According to the indictment, Libby learned from Cheney on June 12, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the CIA. Cheney himself could be summoned to testify at an eventual trial.