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Cheney: Congressional probe of attorneys' firings 'a witch hunt'

  • Story Highlights
  • Vice president sees no reason for Bush political adviser Karl Rove to testify
  • Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "a good man," Cheney says
  • Cheney criticizes Clinton request to hear Iraq withdrawal plans
  • Cheney says his office is part of both executive and legislative branches
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney Tuesday dismissed congressional investigations into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys as "a bit of a witch hunt."

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Vice President Cheney says there are no allegations of wrongdoing in the firing of the U.S. attorneys.

"First of all, there's no charge," Cheney said. "What's the allegation of wrongdoing here? Frankly, there isn't any."

"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," Cheney told CNN's Larry King, adding that he did not feel that Bush senior political adviser Karl Rove need testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter.

"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," Cheney said.

The interview with Cheney aired Tuesday night on "Larry King Live."

Cheney added, "I think that an offer has been made" wherein senior officials would meet with members of Congress -- "but not under oath, not in public, no transcript, to discuss these issues."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced last week that he would subpoena Rove.

When announcing the subpoena on the Senate floor, Leahy said "we've now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys last year. Testimony and documents showed that the list was compiled based on input from the highest political ranks in the White House, including Mr. Rove and Mr. [Scott] Jennings."

Jennings is deputy director of political affairs at the White House.

Leahy also subpoenaed former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former Rove aide Sara Taylor to testify about what they knew about the attorney firings. The White House has also resisted allowing them to testify.

In the interview with King, Cheney also backed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has come under fire for his role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys. Gonzales also faces allegations that he perjured himself to Congress while testifying about a 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft while Ashcroft was hospitalized. Video Watch Cheney defend Gonzales »

Gonzales testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the 2004 meeting was not about a National Security Agency domestic surveillance program, a statement that was later contradicted by FBI head Robert Mueller.

A former government official familiar with the controversy told CNN on Sunday, however, that the 2004 meeting was about a related data mining program, which Gonzales views as a separate program but others view as part of the domestic surveillance program.

"The attorney general may have been splitting hairs here," the former government official said. "He may be able to say 'the dispute' was not about the NSA monitoring program per se. But I would not have said what he said."

Asked whether he stands by Gonzales, Cheney said, "I do. Al's a good man, a good friend, on a difficult assignment."

Asked whether he is troubled by "the appearance of him not telling the truth," the vice president would not comment. "Well, I don't want to get into the specifics with respect to his testimony and the questions that were asked," he said. "I know Al on a personal and professional basis and I hold him in high regard."

Cheney took a shot at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York by saying her requests to the Defense Department for withdrawal plans for Iraq are "political."

"What we don't do is we don't get into the business of sharing operational plans -- we never have -- with the Congress," he said.

"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 Sen. Clinton made, I think would be unwise," Cheney continued.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines responded.

"Sen. Clinton asked a simple yet serious question regarding the contingency planning for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq," Reines said. "In response, she was politically attacked."

Cheney also defended his claim that he works not primarily in the executive but in the legislative branch of government and therefore is not bound by the rules governing members of the executive branch.

Constitutionally, the vice president serves as the Senate president, with the power to vote in the Senate to break a tie. But unless a tie is in the offing, vice presidents in recent times have rarely presided over the chamber and have instead taken on a larger policy role within the administration.

"I have a foot in both camps, if you will," Cheney told CNN.

"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 on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, I am president of the Senate, I am the presiding officer in the Senate, I cast tie-breaking votes there. My paycheck actually comes from the Senate."

Cheney had made the claim in an attempt to show that he is not bound by an executive order concerning executive branch agencies.

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Last month, Cheney's office asserted that it was not required to comply with a presidential order requiring executive branch agencies to report to the National Archives how many documents they classify or declassify.

Cheney's assertion led a key House Democrat to try to strip executive branch funding for the vice president's office. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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