Kerry Calls Bluff, Addington Backs Down from Fourth Branch of Government Claim

Brian Zick

Spencer Ackerman for TPM Muckraker reports that David Addington responded to a letter from John Kerry, "inquiring about the role of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives and Records Administration and the nature of the vice presidency under the Constitution."Addington wrote: The executive order on classified national security information -- Executive Order 12958 as amended in 2003 -- makes it clear that the Vice President is treated like the President and distinguishes the two of them from "agencies." The executive order gives the ISOO, under the supervision of the Archivist of the United States, responsibility to oversee certain activities of "agencies," but not of the Vice President or the President.Constitutional issues in government are best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise in a specific context instead of in theoretical discussions. Given that the executive order treats the Vice President like the President instead of like an "agency," it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency, and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency, to reach the same conclusion that the vice presidency is not an "agency" with respect to which ISOO has a role. Spencer observes that Addington had two options: either argue that the Office of the Vice President is outside the scope of the executive order governing review of how executive branch agencies are supposed to handle classified material, or return to the claim that the veep is a unique branch of government and is exempt by default. Addington, somewhat surprisingly, chooses Option One. But Addington willfully disregards that the EO explicitly refers not just to "agencies" but to "entities" within the Executive Branch, effectively shifting his claim now to be that the President and Vice President are "nonentities."

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