This story's been brewing since the summer, the first buzz sounding from the left, with Nora Ephron noticing in the Huffington Post that an important person had gone missing during hurricane season. And then my colleague downstairs, Will Bunch at Attytood, called the question baldly:
Do George Bush and Dick Cheney not like each other any more? he asked Oct. 11.
Frankly I thought it was either a brilliant thought-scoop or Attytood was putting a little too much mustard on his pretzels.
Now this. A right-leaning Washington Times sister publication called Insight Magazine begins its piece:
The role of Vice President Dick Cheney as the administration's point man in security policy appears over, according to administration sources. Over the last two months Mr. Cheney has been granted decreasing access to the Oval Office, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. The two men still meet, but the close staff work between the president and vice president has ended.
Ephron had wondered if the bad blood began with the plane that in May strayed too close to the White House, causing the evacuation of the vice president, but not the president who was bicycling nearby. (Laura was inside.)
She wrote: So I can only suppose that something has gone wrong. Could the President be irritated that Cheney helped con him into Iraq? Oh, all right, probably not. Could Cheney and not just his aides -- possibly be involved in the Valerie Plame episode? Is Cheney not speaking to Karl Rove? Does the airplane/bicycle incident figure into this in any way?
There were lots of good theories. Billmon of Whiskey Bar weighed in on Attytood's piece, noting that Cheney had leg surgery that could have been more trouble than acknowledged. Or perhaps the White House anticipated a high probability that Cheney would wind up an unindicted co-conspirator in the Valerie Plame case, and made him disappear a while, Evil Empire style.
A commenter named Greg talked of White House civil war, with The Family (George H. W. Bush, Barbara Bush and the "Scowcroft Foreign Policy Realists" evicting Cheney, Rove then Rumsfeld. "They have three years left on this presidency, and they must realize they need to bring in some new, and very competent, statesmen like blood,"he wrote. They must feel totally betrayed by Cheney: he was running the show, and produced what is adding up to one of the most disastrous presidencies in history, especially with respect to foreign policy."
Well, Insight sounds a lot like Greg. (The Barbara part also sounds like The Washington Note's dish from yesterday.) Insight writes:
The sources said the indictment and resignation of Lewis "Scooter" Libby marked the final straw in the deterioration of relations between President Bush and Mr. Cheney. They said Bush aides expect that any trial of Mr. Libby, Mr. Cheney's long-time chief of staff, would open a closet of skeletons regarding such issues as the CIA and the conduct of White House aides "There's a lack of trust that the president has in Cheney and it's connected with Iraq," a source said.
The sources said Mr. Bush has privately blamed Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. They said the president has told his senior aides that the vice president and defense secretary provided misleading assessments on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as well as the capabilities of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The New York Times's Elizabeth Bumiller addressed the issue late last month in a piece headlined In a Most Mysterious Bond, New Tensions?
She wrote on Nov. 21 that Washington had for weeks been percolating with talk that Bush was upset with Cheney for promising a quick happy ending to now two-and-a-half-year-old Ira war and the indictment of Cheney's top aide, Scooter Libby, in the case of Plame's outing as a CIA agent.
"For now," she wrote, "the consensus among Republicans close to the White House is that Mr. Bush may well have been angry about the actions of Mr. Cheney's office, and that he has long been aware that the vice president oversold the case on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But the same Republicans say that Mr. Bush was as much of a hawk on the war as Mr. Cheney, and that in any case the relationship between them has inevitably changed as Mr. Bush has become more secure after five years in office."
Is that all there is?
A commenter called Gargett at the Huffington Post yesterday warned not to make too much of the Insight "scoop:"
My mother used to say, "Consider the source." This piece sounds like the sort of tripe you'd expect from a right-wing rag like this one. More to the point, it sounds exactly like the kind of mis-information that the righties would secretly trot out to give their commander in grief some much-needed cover on the issue of who's really responsible for the war and the lies that led up to it. An anonymous source close to the oval office? Cheney in the dog house? The President unable to form policy (much less a complete sentence)? Worst of all, he doesn't have the right plumbing to own up to his crimes! Can you imagine the President of the United States pulling an Enron: "I had no idea that my closest advisors were feeding me false information to advance their nefarious ambitions in the Middle East." What a joke!