By Barton Gellman
The Penguin Press; 484 pages
THE GIST: Expanding on the Pulitzer Prize-winning series published last year in the Washington Post (co-written with Jo Becker), Gellman explores Dick Cheney's reign as the most powerful vice-president in American history. Angler the VP's Secret Service nickname reveals Cheney's heavy hand in formulating everything from financial policy (Cheney favored of more tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts in the capital gains tax) to energy policy (he forced a reversal on President Bush's 2000 campaign promise to reduce carbon emissions). The bulk of the book's drama, though, is found in Cheney's role in running the government's now infamous warrantless wiretapping program.
A meeting soon after Cheney is inaugurated, between himself and former vice president Dan Quayle. "'Dick, you know you're going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you're going to be doing all this political fundraising.' Quayle repeated. "I mean, this is what Vice Presidents do. We've all done it."
Cheney did that thing he does with one raised eyebrow, a smile on just the left side of his face.
'I have a different understanding with the president,' he said."
In a private meeting with Texas Rep. Dick Armey, a stalwart conservative who nonetheless opposed going to war with Iraq, Cheney puts the screws to him. "In the privacy of his office, for this one crucial vote, Cheney leveled claims he had not made before and did not make again. Two of them crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.
The vice president brought the disquieting news that Iraq's "ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear," had been "substantially refined since the first Gulf War," Armey recalled ... According to Armey, Cheney also reported that al Qaeda was "working with Saddam Hussein and members of his family."
Cheney lobbied for the invasion of Iraq not because he thought it was the most dangerous threat to the United States, but rather because he thought a victory there would be the best way to demonstrate American military power. "The United States would take [Saddam] down because it could. The war would not preempt immediate danger, a more traditional ground for war, but prevent a danger that might emerge later," writes Gellman. One of Cheney's advisors referred to this as the "demonstration effect."
Cheney and his legal counsel, David Addington, effectively steer White House policy on the warrantless wiretapping program. "With Bush's consent , Cheney unleashed foreign intelligence agencies to spy at home ... It is unlikely that the history of U.S. intelligence includes another operation conceived and supervised by the office of the vice president." When the Deputy Attorney General refuses to re-authorize the program, the stubbornness of Cheney and his team almost leads to mass resignations at the Justice Department.
THE LOWDOWN: Readers won't walk away from Angler feeling any differently about Vice President Cheney. His secretive, power-hungry reputation has been earned with good reason this is, after all a man who, when tapped to lead the Vice Presidential search committee, effectively chose himself before interviewing anyone else. And while Gellman's book feels more like a collection of set-pieces than a cohesive whole, this look at this second most powerful office in the land couldn't be timelier given the current debate about vice presidential qualifications.
THE VERDICT: Skim.