Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency
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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman¡¯s newsbreaking investigative journalism documents how Vice President Dick Cheney redefined the role of the American vice presidency, assuming unprecedented responsibilities and making it a post of historic power.

Dick Cheney changed history, defining his times and shaping a White House as no vice president has before¡ª yet concealing most of his work from public view. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman parts the curtains of secrecy to show how Cheney operated, why, and what he wrought.

Angler, Gellman¡¯s embargoed and highly explosive book, is a work of careful, concrete, and original reporting backed by hundreds of interviews with close Cheney allies as well as rivals, many speaking candidly on the record for the first time. On the signature issues of war and peace, Angler takes readers behind the scenes as Cheney maneuvers for dominance on what he calls the iron issues from Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to executive supremacy, interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects, and domestic espionage. Gellman explores the behind-the- scenes story of Cheney¡¯s tremendous influence on foreign policy, exposing how he misled the four ranking members of Congress with faulty intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, how he derailed Bush from venturing into Israeli- Palestinian peace talks for nearly five years, and how his policy left North Korea and Iran free to make major advances in their nuclear programs.

Domestically, Gellman details Cheney¡¯s role as ¡°super Chief of Staff ¡±, enforcer of conservative orthodoxy; gatekeeper of Supreme Court nominees; referee of Cabinet turf; editor of tax and budget laws; and regulator in chief of the administration¡¯s environment policy. We watch as Cheney, the ultimate Washington insider, leverages his influence within the Bush administration in order to implement his policy goals. Gellman¡¯s discoveries will surprise even the most astute students of political science.

Above all, Angler is a study of the inner workings of the Bush administration and the vice president¡¯s central role as the administration¡¯s canniest power player. Gellman exposes the mechanics of Cheney¡¯s largely successful post-September 11 campaign to win unchecked power for the commander in chief, and reflects upon, and perhaps changes, the legacy that Cheney¡ªand the Bush administration as a whole¡ªwill leave as they exit office.

Customer Reviews:

  • Good for your archives
    I bought this book when it first appeared on book shelves. At the time, America had been already captured by news of its first African-American candidate to the presidency, now president, Barak Obama. By the time the election fog thinned out and I got time to read Barton Gellman's Angler, it was all old news, more like picking a book on the Clinton years, or ever Reagan. The book now belongs to archives more than news. If you are a student of American history, then you might still want to buy it.
    This is not to undermine the intricate research that Gellman offers in this book on the Bush presidency and its most controversial decisions. The book is well researched and its journalistic style makes it an entertaining read.
    Even more important, Gellman's skill makes it harder to figure out whether he is praising former Vice President Dick Cheney, or merely showing him, as he became famous on most Comedy Central shows, another Darth Vader.
    Gellman presents events, and leaves it up to the reader to decide. Should America give up one or two of its founding principles and embark on torture and wiretapping to protect American lives? Or should America stick to its principles, even if that means risking some security measure needed for the protection of America and its citizens?
    Gellman never answers this dilemma in Angler, yet he presents it and higlights the choices Bush and his team made, how they made these choices, and why....more info
  • If only we knew THEN what this book reveals NOW
    Wow, what a fabulous book! Wish we'd known even half of this BEFORE Cheney a truly stubborn, and I now believe demented man, single-handedly caused a complete failure of Bush's presidency. (Well he had some help from Addington, Libby, Rumsfeld)... And I used to think Rove was the evil one! The Plame affair? All Cheney, Rove was just carrying out orders.

    When Gore was defeated, I thought how bad can Bush be? At least he has an "experienced" VP. But ironically, as this book explains in excruiatingly, disturbing details: Cheney is exactly the REASON the Bush presidency turned out to be such an incompetent disaster!

    A less "competent" vice president (i.e., one who did not know the process well enough to allow office of VP to systematically interfere in EVERY policy aspect where with narrow minded opinions that were just so God-awful wrong for America).
    A do-nothing presidency would have been far better for American than the many options Cheney (and his evil aide Addington) angled, sheparded and presented to Bush (out flanking more level-headed thinkers, Powell, Rice, Ashcroft, Paul ONeil, Whitman, etc etc etc) that all proved to be disastrous.
    We all know about the giantic mistake of Iraq but, as this book reveals, there have been so, so,so many more! As Oliphant said in his book Incompetents!, basically _everything_ Bush touched turned to S*** and NOW we know WHY and HOW. Torture, indefinite holding of "detainees"(not POWs with any rights at all), rejecting Kyoto treaty, deficits don't matter,etc etc or in sum: "So?"

    ( Just one Cheney previously unknown recommendation buried in the book that Bush declined to accept: Mass-vaccinating 300 million Americans against smallpox, knowing the vaccine's side effects would cause approximately 300 to DIE. Cheney was willing to accept the "collateral damage" of this, Bush, thank God was not) plus...Rerouting river out west and resulting Salmon disaster...all this and more OK with Cheney.

    Disturbingly, we now knowed he LIED about going to the GW hospital during recount as a "precautionary measure" he had a heart-attack and lied about it right out of the gate!

    Oh, but wait, this was AFTER as "vetter" he used the detailed information the other VP "candiates" provided in questionaires AGAINST them (leaked falsely damaging info to press, ruining an OK governor) and later "held" to keep those Repubs inline in the coming years! Yet he never released all HIS tax records. Barton Gellman lets him off the hook for this, I have doubts. It would be out of character with every other Maccaveillian description of Cheney in the book.
    For years, I've thought he was acting like a demented old man (as comments to Vt. senator demonstrated). Angler explains, via expert cardiologists, how heart trouble DOES affect the brain.
    (So. Was the wheel chair needed for a BACK injury during inauguration? or so Cheney would not have to stand and show respect to Obama? I wonder. Everyone I know with back problems feels better STANDING than sitting for long periods.)
    Bottom line, this book explains why most of us no longer believe anything Cheney says...and why he left office with such a dismal approval rating....more info
  • A good account of how Cheney operates.
    In Angler, Gellman argues that with the Cheney vice-presidency we came as close as possible to having a deputy president. That's putting it mildly. What we learn in this book really is that we had a co-presidency. While Bush rarely appears in this book, since it's not about him, we have to assume that Bush at some point does whatever it is that presidents are supposed to do, although there is little evidence here. What we do learn is that Cheney did an awful lot of what a president does and then some.

    Cheney had two personal interests in joining this administration: the economy and foreign policy. Today every American can judge for himself to what extent Cheney was a success in these areas. In terms of the economy, Cheney is the old-fashioned conservative: small government, big military, tax breaks for the rich as the only solution for all ills. Bush, we are told, is more of a populist, who cares about the little guy and has no problem with big government. Bush's (only?) two interests were education reform and prescription assistance for the elderly. Again and again we are introduced to issues where ideology takes Cheney in one direction and instincts take Bush in another, yet Cheney invariably wins- while claiming that the president has the last word. And every time this entails plenty of collateral damage: people whose careers where destroyed for not going along with Cheney. In foreign policy Cheney saw the end of the cold war as a chance for America to become and remain the only power on earth to dictate the new globalism. 9/11 was a key event because with it, Cheney saw the chance to give the executive office absolute powers.

    Almost every chapter focuses on some issue where Cheney exerted more power than a VP has ever had. The book is also arranged chronologically, from the days of Cheney trying to find a running mate for Bush to Bush reflecting in 2008 about his relationship to Cheney. Some of the issues discussed are: 2 chapters on the environment, a couple on economic issues, 9/11, domestic spying, dealing with Congress, Iraq, torture, Iran.

    We find out how Cheney works: by learning as much as he can about an issue, not because he is interesting in learning to make up his mind but rather because he is looking for definitive arguments for his already-made-up mind. He tried to manage as much information as possible, that is, get as much information, and let no info out. He did this by inserting himself in meetings that a VP has no business in or sending his proxies, by obtaining all communications that went to the president and to the State Department. He would create alternative channels of communication and influence if the official ways didn't get the result he wanted fast and he did so without letting those who should know have any idea of what happened. He did it all it utmost secrecy. Then, of course, he'd lie about it all. He'd be the last guy in the room with the president after everyone else left- and that meant that Bush ended up agreeing with Cheney.

    We meet an interesting cast of characters. We are told that Libby is a Cheney's Cheney, but he does not appear often in this book, perhaps that's how secretive he is. Instead the one who really seems to be a Cheney's Cheney is Addington, who is also a psychopath and acts as Cheney's mouth. While Cheney rarely speaks but mainly asks questions, Addington pretty much gives voice to whatever is in Cheney's mind- and it's never good. But Addington did more than talk, he also articulated in writing what Cheney wanted. Whatever law or order Bush signed and regardless where it came from, it went through Addington before Bush signed it and Addington created the final version making changes that allowed for things to go Cheney's way in the end and after all was said and done- even if the law was one explicitly opposing Cheney.

    While the author does not insert himself in this book for the most part, he does become particularly confrontational when it comes to constitutional issues. He tries not to be judgmental or take sides, but a lot is made clear by what issues he chose. Chapter eight, "Matching the Science," pertains to an economical/environmental issue: whether to let farmlands dry out and put farmers out of business or insure the survival of some type of fish. Gellman wants the reader to become outraged over Cheney's choice to side with the farmers over the fish, but you'd have to be a radical to fault Cheney here for putting people over fish. I will also give credit to Cheney for fighting to allow the CIA to be free of restrictions in their investigative methods, and for trying to inject some dynamism in Washington, a town characterized by inertia.

    Note that this book is NOT an analysis of the Cheney vice-presidency or of Cheney himself, it is an account and description of events and what went on behind the scenes. It is an easy and quick read thanks to large print and generous margins (hardcover edition). The research the author did is first rate. I am not so impressed by the writing style. I take it in this genre sentence fragments are acceptable. The chapters on the events that almost led to a part of the administration resigning are thrilling.

    What I concluded from this book is that Cheney is very intelligent and competent as a bureaucrat. The faculty of reason alone, without a moral directive, however, has proven catastrophic again and again in history. And Cheney is not intelligent enough to recognize when he is wrong. But it must be an accomplishment to get so much done in Washington with a handful of acolytes and without everyone else finding out. Unfortunately, he was wrong on nearly everything; his ideology is flat out immoral, incorrect, and disastrous. The man is also emotionally-challenged and for whatever reasons (inability to trust others?) starved for power. He can only work with those who are like-minded and has an uncanny type of leadership, where he was able to control any meeting he was in, whether invited or uninvited, in person or via TV, merely by his presence. Perhaps it is true that image is everything in America, and all these high-powered people deferred to the grandfather-figure Cheney to get the last word on everything.

    Gellman wants to convince us that Bush and Cheney are men who have the best of intentions and are entirely driven by the desire to serve this country. His books proves that this is not the case at all. The chapters on 9/11 show that before 9/11 the intelligence community did their best to get Cheney's attention about the threat of Al-Qaeda. Yet Cheney would have none of it. During 9/11 Cheney remains completely and in my view pathologically apathetic. After 9/11 the administration blamed the intelligence community and used 9/11 to try to install a tyranny.

    This book gives support to the view that the Bush-Cheney administration was the worst ever in American history, if nothing else for the fact that the people did not perform their assigned roles. Bush happily allowed Cheney to usurp the roles of his cabinet and of himself. There weren't enough courageous folks to effectively counterbalance Cheney's wrong doctrines and apparently those who tried did not have Bush's support or even his ear. Bush blindly accepted nearly every position Cheney took. Cheney moreover filled the administration with the insane but articulate neo-cons whose ideology has no basis whatsoever in reality. But don't look for details about the Cheney-neo-con relationship in this book. How that ever happened is for others to investigate; the index doesn't even include the word "neo-conservative," which Gellman does mention, and he does spend some time discussing the absurd views of Yoo and Wurmser.

    I want to conclude this review by mentioning the names of some of the good guys who appear in this book and who did the right thing and fought against this administration and the entire Cheney machine for what was right: John Ashcroft, James Comey, Jack Goldsmith, Richard Haas, Ben Miller, Theodore Olson, Jim Jeffords, Alberto Mora, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Paul O'Neill.
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  • The angler is leaving but the hooks are still in place
    "I'm sure when we leave office we're all going to be hauled up before congressional committees and grand juries," David Addington, the undoubted heavy of this book complains on page 312, and after reading "Angler," I can only hope he was right. President-elect Obama has already disclaimed any intention of launching investigations, let alone prosecutions, of Bush administration officials. If he, or Congress, change their minds, though, this remarkable book would make a great starting point.

    I read the series in The Washington Post by Gellman and Jo Becker in which this book's roots lie, and was impressed at the time with the scope of the writers' research and their ability not only to portray personalities and conflicts, but also to illustrate the deeper principles involved. Those talents are even more apparent in a book-length treatment that, while nearly 500 pages long, was still a quick and engrossing read (large type and thick leading help here). Comparing this to the ubiquitous, and similarly thick, "behind the scenes" tomes produced by Bob Woodward, I found "Angler" both more interesting and better written.

    Deeply rooted in biography though "Angler" is, this book is far from a hit piece on Dick Cheney -- though I can certainly imagine administration defenders (are there any left?) critiquing it as such. What I found far more troubling than Cheney himself, or even the frankly awful Addington, is the "theory of the unified executive" that Cheney and his team did so much to advance and defend -- and which is still supported by a wide variety of people who argue that while Cheney and team may have gone too far, the basic idea is both constitutionally sound and essential to securing America's future. For me, the lasting lesson of "Angler" came on page 132, where Gellman argues that, contrary to common wisdom, it was not the September 11 attacks that "changed everything." What was truly important, he says, is the way government responded to those attacks. Put another way: Cheney changed everything.

    Bush, Cheney and the rest of the administration are leaving in six weeks or so, but the key test of what, if anything, we learn from reading "Angler" will be the extent to which any of the powers Cheney gathered in the "OVP" are rolled back in the coming administration. Too many people seem to believe that whose hands are on the levers of power matters more than what those levers can do, meaning that as Robert Higgs taught us, we can never go back to where we were before. It seems like half the books I've read in the last year of presidential and post-presidential politics end up pointing me back to Gene Healy's essential The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, but that book and this one together raise a fundamental question for determining where you stand on the issues "Angler" raises: is Dick Cheney a cause, or only a symptom?...more info
  • Darth Vader Made Real
    All I can say is that I'm glad I read this book post the November 4 election rather than before, because this story sent chills up my spine. We all knew that the last eight years was more of a Dick Cheney presidency than that of George Bush, but reading about Cheney's careful and methodical approach to taking us down the darkest of rat holes is truly horrifying. Now knowing how deep in the grip we've been in the hands of a madman surrounded by other madmen it's not surprising that America has lost its way so terribly. Several times I wanted to put this book down but couldn't, because like driving by a car wreck, you can't help but wonder what could have gone so wrong. Hopefully, everyone selected for the incoming Obama administration will read this since it accurately portrays a perfect morality tale of what happens when unchecked power is unleashed in the White House.

    Clearly written, chilling, sadly instructive.
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  • Buy it, read it, keep it on your shelf so that you never forget
    If future generations want a single volume that captures the madness of the Bush presidency, they should pick up Angler and race through it like I did. The broad arc of the story probably isn't mysterious to anyone reading this review: Dick Cheney controlled most White House policy for at least the first six years of the Bush administration. The details -- how, exactly, Cheney managed this trick -- are what we really need to know, and here Gellman shines. As a chief of staff for Gerald Ford, Cheney learned exactly how information flows into and out of the Oval Office. In that role, he viewed himself as an impartial referee, making sure that the president heard all voices -- even the ones that displeased the chief of staff. The chief of staff's goal -- the goal of the whole Executive Office of the President -- was, in Cheney's words, "orderly paper flow" and avoiding "by the way decisions": decisions must not be ad hoc, and must receive buy-in from all affected parties. As vice president, on the other hand, he had his own policy preferences to push. He pushed them mercilessly and with endless cunning. One episode -- delivered by Gellman with remarkable dramatic pacing -- shows Cheney's gifts in all their unfortunate glory. As Gellman describes it,

    'In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. Cheney's days of "orderly paper flow," of shunning "by the way decisions," were long behind him. ...

    Bush was standing, ready to depart, when Bowen arrived in the Oval Office. Addington's words were now bound in a blue portfolio, embossed with the presidential seal. Bush reached for the folder and turned to the last page. Bowen held it open. Bush pulled out a Sharpie from his breast pocket and signed ...

    Colin Powell had the television going in his office. He picked up the phone to Pierre Prosper.

    "What the hell just happened?" he asked.'

    Cheney's bureaucratic power came, in no small part, from having tentacles in every Executive Branch agency. When the Bush-Gore case was making its excruciating, chad-laden path through the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts, Cheney was hard at work building a staff in case Bush was elected. It was during this period that he hired his friends and hired those who would help keep the vice president's fingers in every little pie. By the time he reached the vice presidency, it seems like not much of an exaggeration to say that Cheney was the Executive Branch. Not only that, but he maintained an office in Congress -- violating centuries of precedent -- from which he could monitor the legislative branch. When LBJ tried to stick around his old Senatorial haunts, upon assuming the vice presidency in 1961, the Democratic leadership froze him out.

    Perhaps the most astonishing part of Gellman's book, viewed in retrospect, comes at the very beginning. Cheney himself ran the vetting process for vice-presidential running mates. He required from each candidate a mountain of background information: medical history, criminal history, financial history, and sexual history -- anything at all that might embarrass the president if it came to light. Gellman strongly suggests, however, that Cheney was quietly laying the groundwork for his own candidacy throughout this background check, and -- here we laugh to avoid crying -- never subjected himself to his own background check. At the end of the process, Cheney could have blackmailed more or less anyone who stood in his way.

    Gellman suggests, without really saying so, that this potential blackmail kept a lot of senators and representatives from stepping forward to resist the Bush administration on its most contentious policies -- torture, the war in Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.

    Here's where my interest in the Cheney vice presidency steps outside of the frame that Gellman has created for us. He published Angler in 2008, when the Bush administration's reputation was at its nadir, and history's spotlight was starting to focus on the Republicans and Democrats who enabled this disastrous presidency. Is it any wonder that Gellman found lots of people willing to provide excuses for their own inaction? For all its many charms, Angler reminds me to some degree of books like Bob Woodward's The Brethren. In The Brethren, we see Supreme Court justices portrayed as lovable innocents in the hands of their good-naturedly scowling clerks. These clerks, at the time Woodward interviewed them, were looking for their next jobs. It's no surprise that they were hoping to portray themselves in the best possible light.

    That's really a tiny cavil; Angler is a marvelous book. If anything, it suggests that we need a biography of David Addington, Cheney's omnipresent hectoring lawyer and chief of staff. He is the alpha male, it seems, pressing the doctrine of the unitary executive as far as it would go. It went far indeed. (Seems as though Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency might be the microscope on Addington that I want.)...more info
  • Timely reading.
    This was a gift and so I can't comment on the book. Delivery, however, was typical Amazon speedy!...more info
  • What Happened and Why
    I saw Barton Gellman on the Daily Show I think and having just planned the Vice President's visit to the USS Constitution, I thought this book would be an interesting read. I was correct and I couldn't put the book down. I was expecting a Cheney bashing but was pleasantly surprised. Gellman did a great job of remaining objective and at times I wasn't sure what his take was on Cheney. Gellman helped me see Dick Cheney for who he is--a brilliant Machiavellian strategist whose desire for privacy, both personal and professional, caused him more grief than I think he (Vice President Cheney) is willing to admit. Gellman described not an evil villain but a man that just didn't care what anyone (including the President) thought. Cheney answered to no one--especially his critics, the press and any opposition in Congress, based on his interpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution.

    Regardless of how you feel about Vice President Dick Cheney, this book is a must read if you want to better understand how the Bush administration operated and why.

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  • The Angler The Cheney Vice Presidency
    Easy reading. Very informative about a very guarded man. You will learn a lot about the man and his personality. Liked to have his hands in everything and control the outcome. Knew what he wanted to accomplish and made sure he reached his objective....more info
  • Second Draft of History
    If journalism is the first draft of history, telling us generally what has happened, the second draft should be able to tell us more specifically what made it happen and why. Barton Gellman "Angler" is outstanding in this sense, describing in detail how and why the tumultuous last eight years were to such a large extent the product of something never before seen in America, a Presidency weakened by the President's choice to delegate his authority to his Vice President.

    Many readers will find it odd that the matter is put this way. Gellman makes clear Cheney's deeply held belief in the primacy of Presidential power in the American system, and his determination to assert that primacy over competing claims from the Congress, the judiciary, and the Cabinet departments. Yet what Gellman illustrates for the first time is how Cheney's belief could not have been implemented had he served under any other President in our history. Bush ceded to Cheney authority to review every paper Bush saw while allowing Cheney to keep his own office's paperwork secret; it was Cheney's legal counsel, David Addington, not Bush's lawyers or his Justice Department, who directed the legal response to terrorism after 9/11; Cabinet departments who had gone directly to the President to resolve major differences over policy and budget in other administrations had to work these out with Cheney during Bush's. The strongest claims to expansive Presidential authority by any administration in our history were made on behalf of a President so weak that he allowed the one subordinate he could not fire to exercise Presidential powers without his knowledge.

    It's an astonishing tail, testimony not only to George W. Bush's unfitness for high public office but to the badly degraded checks and balances that have long kept excessive concentrations of power in Washington at bay. You won't find names like Obama, Biden, Clinton or Kerry in "Angler"; John McCain only has a bit part. The media is easily manipulated, and only in Bush's second term -- particularly with the departure from the Defense Department of Cheney's former boss Donald Rumsfeld -- do several major foreign policy decisions get made in defiance of Cheney's wishes.

    There will be other histories written of the Bush administration. None will be complete without reference to this book....more info