Dick Cheney and His Invisible Guests

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Al Gore used to throw open the vice presidential gates every Halloween for a costume party. Under the current management, however, the guests might as well come as ghosts.

Vice President Dick Cheney, whose penchant for secrecy is well known, has eliminated any public record of his guests and their visits. His office has directed the U.S. Secret Service to turn over the visitor logs so they can be treated in effect as classified documents. No copies can be kept. According to declarations filed May 25 in a lawsuit, the directive was initiated in 2001 and quietly reiterated nine months ago as the Washington Post and a public interest group were trying to track appearances by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It is not for social niceties that Cheney claims "exclusive control" over the names of his guests. The man who could often be found only in "undisclosed locations" after 9/11 likes to conduct public business in private. He fought off the General Accounting Office when it sought the names of oil, coal and utility lobbyists with whom Cheney had met privately to discuss the energy policy that he was fashioning for the Bush Administration — a practice ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is trying to pry open Cheney's hidden world in a lawsuit seeking Secret Service records of visitors to the White House and vice presidential residence. The group's chief counsel, Anne Weismann, told TIME that such logs would help illuminate the kind of outsiders who influence national policy.

Since Freedom of information laws do not apply to the White House, Cheney's office had the logs turned over to the White House every month, thus protecting them under the Presidential Records Act. A vice presidential aide argued in a court filing last week that the guest lists should remain off-limits because they could reveal "sensitive information regarding the inner workings and deliberations" of Cheney's office and provide a "roadmap" to his decision-making.

Nonsense, says Weisman, who notes the request seeks only names of visitors, not the substance of their discussions. "This Vice President has been given an extraordinary amount of power and authority," she said. "The more authority you're going to invest in an office, the greater the need there has to be for transparency in some degree of public accountability."

Cheney is by no means the first White House official to claim executive privilege over his guest lists. President Bill Clinton fought subpoenas for months before turning over records of his meetings in the Monica Lewinsky investigation. A Secret Service spokeswoman wouldn't say how the agency handled visitor logs for previous occupants of the vice presidential residence, a sprawling estate at the Naval Observatory in Washington. A spokesman for the Vice President said the records will be preserved as presidential documents.