Interview of the Vice President by Mark Knoller, CBS Radio
West Wing Office
12:57 P.M. EDT
Q: Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. I'm very grateful. Let me start with your health. On Saturday you had a minor surgical procedure to implant a new defibrillator in your chest. How did that go? How do you feel?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I feel good. The procedure went fine. Six years ago was when they first implanted this -- what do they call it -- a cardio defibrillator. It's a combination pacemaker or defibrillator that is geared to restart my heart if something should happen to it or it should slow down too much. It's great technology, it's never gone off. But over six years, gradually the battery runs down and needs to be replaced. So we went in on Saturday and they just put in a brand new unit.
Q: We spoke with a cardiologist who says it's a good sign when a patient outlasts the battery in a defibrillator. Do you see it that way?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, yes, that's certainly better than the alternative. I'm amazed at what they can do these days. I went in -- an outpatient procedure, I went in about 8:00 a.m. and I was home by noon.
Q: I want to discuss Iraq at some length with you, but I don't want to rush you on that. So let me get a few other issues out of the way that we haven't spoken with you about in a couple of months. Do you want Attorney General Gonzales to keep fighting to keep his job?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do. I'm a big fan of Al's.
Q: Does he need to clarify his testimony?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. I think Al has done a good job under difficult circumstances. The debate between he and the Senate is something they're going to have to resolve. But I think he has testified truthfully.
Q: How do you answer even those Republicans like Senator Specter and Congressman Shays who say that in their view the Attorney General's credibility has been damaged?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't agree with them.
Q: Can he remain Attorney General if the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, says point blank he doesn't trust the Attorney General?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've had my differences with Pat Leahy. I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the President, and he clearly does.
Q: We haven't spoken to you in a hard-news interview since the verdict was rendered in the Scooter Libby case. Let me ask you, have you spoken to your former top aide since his verdict?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have.
Q: And can you tell us anything about that conversation?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've seen him socially on a number of occasions.
Q: Do you believe the commutation that President Bush gave Scooter Libby for his prison term was enough, or if you had been President, would you have granted a full pardon?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I thought the President handled it right. I supported his decision.
Q: Did you disagree with the guilty verdict in the case?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did.
Q: Even though the President said he respects that verdict?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I still -- you asked me if I disagreed with the verdict, and I did.
Q: Do you think Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald went too far in pursuing a prosecution of Scooter Libby?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to go beyond where I have already. The matter is still pending before the courts. There is an appeal pending on the question, and I don't want to elaborate further.
Q: Another issue, why did your office stop filing reports about your handling of classified material with the National Archives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there's an executive order that covers that, that was issued in 2003 that makes it clear that the Vice President is to be treated the same as the President, and neither one of them is to file those reports with the National Archives.
Q: There's no cover up?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Nothing to cover up.
Q: There was an aide in your office who said that one of the reasons you weren't abiding by that executive order was that you're really not part of the executive branch. Do you have -- are you part of the executive branch, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the job of the Vice President is an interesting one, because you've got a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch. Obviously, I've got an office in the West Wing of the White House, I'm an advisor of the President, I sit as a member of the National Security Council. At the same time, under the Constitution, I have legislative responsibilities. I'm actually paid by the Senate, not by the executive. I sit as the President of the Senate, as the presiding officer in the Senate. I cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. So the Vice President is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you've got a foot in both branches.
Q: But you are principally a part of the executive branch, are you not?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I suppose you could argue it either way. The fact is I do work in both branches. Under the Constitution, I'm assigned responsibilities in the legislative branch. Then the President obviously gives me responsibilities in the executive branch. And I perform both those functions, although I think it would be fair to say I spend more time on executive matters than legislative matters.
Q: About two Saturdays ago, for two hours and five minutes, you were technically acting President of the United States when Mr. Bush invoked the 25th amendment. So that certainly made you part of the executive branch.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Correct.
Q: Did you take any presidential actions during that time?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I basically wrote a letter to my grandkids.
Q: As acting President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As acting President.
Q: What did you say in that letter?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A souvenir for them to have down the road some day.
Q: Were you tempted to take any actions during that period?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I was not.
Q: Okay. Mr. Vice President, on the issue of Iraq. In a speech last month you said the U.S. must stay in Iraq until we win. Isn't that the kind of open-ended commitment that could keep the U.S. there for years and years?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's absolutely essential that we succeed in Iraq. And the commitment we have made is to complete the mission, in effect, to get the job done, to establish security and to give the Iraqis an opportunity to be able to set up a functioning government -- which they've done -- and to be able to deal with the security situation themselves, which they're on their way of doing.
Q: A draft of the joint campaign plan says the U.S. would have to remain there at least through 2009. Does that sound right to you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to make those judgments. I think those really turn more on the kind of advice we get from the military. We're all waiting to see what General Petraeus produces by way of his report back, in September. But in terms of achieving our objectives, I think it's very important that the United States not withdraw from Iraq, not adopt a posture of some of our friends on the other side of the aisle who are calling, in effect, for accepting retreat as the outcome. I think that would be totally inappropriate. I think it's not necessary. I think we can prevail in Iraq, and I think Dave Petraeus and the troops that are there now are doing a very good job.
Q: How long will the surge last?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that depends on how long it has to last. It's set up so that it kicked in, really, this summer. We began to deploy the additional troops in the spring; the final deployment of additional troops occurred in late June, early July. And so the surge right now is at its maximum peak. How long that continues will be a decision the President will make based on advice he gets from General Petraeus.
Q: If you and the President were running for reelection next year, would that be a factor in any way in Iraq policy?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe it would be. I think what we're doing in Iraq is based on what we believe is in the best interests of the nation. And I don't think it would be affected by politics; it certainly wasn't in '04 when we ran for reelection. And we're continuing because we believe this is the right course of action.
Q: Do you believe, in any way, that the strategy in Iraq will affect how Republicans fare in their bid to win back control of Congress and retain control of the White House in '08?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It may well. I can't speculate on that. I think the fact is that we can succeed in Iraq, that the objective is worthwhile, and that ultimately I think history will recognize that.
Q: Is anything about the '08 campaign being factored into the strategy in Iraq?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In terms of decisions the President has made, certainly you're aware that there's a campaign underway, but it hasn't affected the decisions that we've made with respect to a course of action we'll pursue there -- that was already set.
Q: What do you make about the extent to which you and the President have been demonized and vilified over the strategy in Iraq? I've been in Washington some 30 years, I've rarely -- I don't think I've ever seen anything like it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's almost as long as I've been here. It has been rough, I would say, from a political standpoint, certainly. But the President is, I think, properly on a course that he believes in. He's made decisions because he thinks it's the right thing to do for the nation. He has not worried about the polls or what his critics may be saying about him. I think that's entirely consistent with his responsibilities as President. I think that's the way our best Presidents have operated.
Q: Once again, on campaign '08, were you amused last week to see Barack Obama call Hillary Clinton "Bush-Cheney light"?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I was. (Laughter.) I wasn't quite sure -- I didn't think that was meant to be a compliment, but it was an interesting -- interesting line of attack.
Q: What do you make of the campaign as it's going so far? I know you want to stay neutral, and I'm not asking you to take issues, but you must watch with great interest what the Democrats are up to.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure, I watch with great interest on both sides, both Republicans and Democrats. Our presidential campaigns are one of the unique and distinguishing features of our society. And the process by which we select Presidents and then hold them accountable is unique in many respects here in the United States. As somebody who has participated in that process now for the better part of 40 years, I am always fascinated by it. Not involved this time, but fascinated.
Q: Do you have any second thoughts about deciding not to seek election to the presidency on your own next year?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I made the right decision. I addressed that issue some ten years ago, and decided I wasn't going to be a candidate. And that was the right decision for me and my family, and I have no second thoughts.
Q: So you won't regret leaving office in January of '09?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I'll have been involved in Washington for upwards of 40 years, since I first arrived in Washington in 1968, and that's long enough.
Q: Last question on the agenda. As of July 20th, you're at 18 months left to the Bush-Cheney administration. What tops the agenda for the administration in the year and a half to go?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, clearly, we'll remain focused on the global war on terror, and in particular on the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those are continuing conflicts that require our attention. The global conflict against al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliates is going to go on long after we're here, but we'll do everything we can, obviously, to leave the situation as strong as possible for our successors, whoever that may be.
Q: Last question. Who do you blame for the defeat of the immigration reform bill? Were the conservative talk show hosts responsible for that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know that you can blame any one particular individual or group. That's a tough issue; if it was easy, it would have been solved a long time ago. The President, I thought, handled it well. I thought many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle tried to address it -- it's a serious problem; it does need to be addressed, does need to be solved. Obviously there are a lot of people out around the country who have got strong feelings on various aspects of it, and they were all heard from.
We were unable to get anything done this time around, legislatively. That doesn't mean it's dead, by any means. Still a possibility that it will -- some aspects of it may be acted upon before we leave. But one way or the other, in the next few years, we're going to have to have immigration legislation.
Q: On that note, Mr. Vice President, our time is up. Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. I'm very grateful to you. In the Vice President's office in the West Wing, I'm Mark Knoller, CBS News.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mark.
Q: Thank you, sir.
END 1:11 P.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Mark Knoller, CBS Radio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285946