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CNN Larry King Live

Interview With Vice President Dick Cheney

Aired July 31, 2007 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Vice President Dick Cheney -- powerful, controversial, backer of a war that most Americans now oppose. Seen by some as the enforcer for an administration under siege.
Vice President Cheney answering some tough questions, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We're located in the Vice Presidential Ceremonial Office. It's in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.

Thanks for giving us the time, Mr. Vice President.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's good to see you again, Larry.

KING: Always good to see you.

How do you deal with it when public opinion polls are stridently against the policy?

We have Republican senators like Lugar and Hagel and Voinovich and Domenici questioning it.

Do you ever, as an intelligent person, look in the mirror and say, maybe I'm wrong?

CHENEY: Well, the way you have to operate in these jobs -- and the president obviously is the one who bears the greatest burden -- he's the one who makes the decisions. But I clearly support him. You have to do it on the basis of what you think is right and what's best for the country.

The polls are notoriously unreliable in the sense that they change all the time and they bounce around all over the place. And that if you looked simply at public opinion, for example, a lot of the key decisions in our history would never have been pursued or followed through on.

Washington never would have carried through for seven years of the Revolution. Abraham Lincoln would never have stayed with it in order to win the Civil War. We would have been two separate nations by then.

You can look at major moments in our history and be thankful that we had leaders and presidents who made decisions, stuck with them and saw them through to the end.

KING: But in all cases, they did question themselves. In all cases, they said, well, let's look at it this way.

Don't you?

I mean the question is, don't you ever say, maybe I'm wrong?

CHENEY: No. I think what we do is we look at it in terms of trying to decide what's the right thing to do. And the -- and weigh the evidence. And there's a lot of debate and discussion.

We went through the exercise at the beginning of this year, you may remember, when the president decided to put more forces into Baghdad. That's a time when we evaluated a whole range of options; when we talked to a wide number of people with a variety of viewpoints; met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff; talked to outside military experts, as well as the politicos on the ground; and made a judgment.

The president made a decision then, and the -- and I think it was the right decision...

KING: So...

CHENEY: ...that was to go with the surge.

KING: retrospect, you would still go into Iraq?

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

KING: So those 3,000 plus lives have not died in vain?

CHENEY: No, sir.

Larry, you worry about every single casualty. And...

KING: Do you feel the burden of it?

CHENEY: Absolutely.

When you're in one of those positions -- the president obviously has the biggest burden. I shared some of that when I was secretary of defense during Desert Storm.

There are times when you make decisions to commit military forces when you know that one of the results of that is going to be that there are going to be American casualties, that American soldiers are going to die.

It's one of the most difficult things anybody has to do. It goes with being president of the United States. And we have to have somebody prepared to make those decisions. And I firmly believe, Larry, that the decisions we've made with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan have been absolutely the sound ones in terms of the overall strategy. KING: Although there were mistakes.

CHENEY: Oh, sure. Yes. There are always things in war that happen that nobody anticipated, surprises, things that don't go exactly as planned, that's the nature of warfare. But that doesn't mean the strategy isn't -- isn't the correct strategy, that the objective isn't the right objective.

KING: Is -- does it pain you when Brent Scowcroft says this is not the Dick Cheney I knew?

CHENEY: Well...

KING: I mean you were close friends.

CHENEY: Sure. And I don't bear any grudges towards Brent. Brent doesn't walk in my shoes these days. He's not in the job I'm in. He's not responsible for making the decisions the president has had to make and those of us who support him and advise him.

KING: Does it pain you?

CHENEY: Not especially. It goes with the turf, Larry. I -- you know, if I were in business to be popular, I supposed I would be worried about my poll ratings and so forth.

I'm not. I came here to do a job.

I'm not running for any office myself. I made the decision when I signed on with the president that the only agenda I would have would be his agenda, that I was not going to be like most vice presidents -- and that was angling, trying to figure out how I was going to get elected president when his term was over with.

When he's finished, I'm finished. We walk out of here on January 20th of '09 and I think we'll be able to hold our heads high knowing we did the best we could for the country. That's...

KING: Wouldn't you like...

CHENEY: That's what counts more than anything else.

KING: Wouldn't you like to be liked?

CHENEY: Well, up to a point. But if you wanted to be liked, I should never have gotten involved in politics in the first place. Remember, success for a politician is 50 percent plus one. You don't have to have everybody on board.

KING: OK, let's go back. On this program, May of 2005, you said the Iraqi insurgency was in the last throes.

CHENEY: Right.

KING: Why were you wrong? CHENEY: I think my estimate at the time -- and it was wrong, it turned out to be incorrect -- was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq -- electing an interim government, then ratifying a constitution and then electing a permanent government.

That they had had significant success. We had rounded up Saddam Hussein. I thought there were a series of these milestones that would, in fact, undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point.

That clearly didn't happen. I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust. And the other thing that happened, of course -- this was prior to the actions of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, with his bombing of the mosque up at Samara in early '06 that, in effect, helped to precipitate some of the sectarian conflict that led to a lot of the Shia on Sunni violence.

KING: In that same interview, you said that the Iraqis were well on their way to being able to defend themselves.

Why not?

CHENEY: Well, they...

KING: Why are they gone?

CHENEY: They're not yet because the job is not done yet, Larry.

When you think about what's been accomplished in, what, about four years now since we originally launched in there, they have, in fact, held three national elections and written a constitution. There are a significant number of Iraqis now serving in the armed forces, serving as part of the security forces. We have made progress on that front.

We have also, obviously, with the surge, the president decided on last January, I think, made significant progress now into the course of the summer.

The real test is whether or not the strategy that was put in place for this year will, in fact, produce the desired results.

KING: Will those results be in place on that day in '09 when you leave?

CHENEY: I believe so. I think we're seeing already, from others -- don't take it from me. Look at the piece that appeared yesterday in "The New York Times," not exactly a friendly publication -- but a piece by Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack on the situation in Iraq.

They're are just back from visiting over there. They both have been strong critics of the war, both worked in the prior administration. But now saying that they think there is a possibility, indeed, that we could be successful. So we'll know a lot more in September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back and report, sort of, to Congress and to the president on the situation in Iraq and whether or not we're making progress. Obviously...

KING: You don't...

CHENEY: ...we want to get it done as quickly as possible.

KING: You don't know what to expect though, do you?

Or do you?

CHENEY: Well, I -- I think it's going to show that we will have made significant progress. The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that, indeed, the Petraeus plan is, in fact, producing results.

Now, admittedly, I've been one side of this argument from the very beginning, though I would urge people to have an open mind, to listen to General Petraeus when he comes back, but also look what others have to say.

KING: We'll be right back with Vice President Cheney.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Vice President Cheney.

Does it bother you that the Iraqi parliament is taking August off?

CHENEY: Well, it's better than...

KING: While our men are over there?

CHENEY: Yes. It's better than taking...

KING: And women...

CHENEY: ...two months off, which was their original plan. Our Congress, of course, takes the month of August off to go back home. So I don't think we can say that they shouldn't go home at all. But, obviously, we're eager to have them complete their work.

And they have, in fact, passed about 60 pieces of legislation this year. They have been fairly productive. Now there are major issues yet to be addressed and be resolved that they are still working on. But they did -- I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May, that we didn't appreciate the notion that they were going take a big part of the summer off. And they did cut that in half.

KING: Do you think, as you look at it yourself, that you -- you're lifetime politician, right, from the Hill... CHENEY: That's how I've spent most of my career.

KING: should have been more public on this?

CHENEY: More public?

KING: Yes. Out there more.

CHENEY: A spokesman?

KING: Yes.

CHENEY: Well, I don't know. That -- that's always debatable. I've...

KING: You think so?

CHENEY: Yes. I do. I think -- I try to get out as much as I can. I try not to overdo it. There are times when I'm a good spokesman on a particular issue, other times when somebody else is. The president is out there a lot, obviously. That's part of his job. And I think people would rather hear from the president than they would the vice president.

But I've done a lot of it and will continue to do a lot of it as long as I'm vice president.

KING: By the way, is General Petraeus the be all and end all?

CHENEY: General Petraeus is a very impressive officer. I know him. I've watched him over the years when he commanded the 101st, when we first launched into Iraq four years ago. I spent some time with him out at Fort Leavenworth when he had the command out there.

He is a very, very highly regarded officer for good reasons. He's a great soldier and he's also something of a scholar, a Ph.D. From Princeton. He's a man who is a very thoughtful advocate of counter- insurgency doctrine.

He's really the author, if you will, of the current counter- insurgency doctrine in the U.S. Army, who is having a chance to put in practice what he has believed and developed over the years.

I don't want to put the whole burden on him. He's...

KING: It seems to be he's mentioned everywhere.

CHENEY: He's mentioned everywhere and it's because he is, I think, very highly regarded by the troops. And he obviously has the confidence of the president and many of us in the administration.

Now, there are a lot of people working at it, too. General Ray Odierno, who is his number two, a superb officer. A man who spent about 28 months in Iraq himself so far, whose son served and lost an arm, who is dedicated -- is just as dedicated as Dave Petraeus is to the success of this enterprise. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people, especially the young men and women serving, who deserve credit for the effort that's currently underway.

KING: Let's touch some other bases.

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

KING: To which branch of government do you belong?

Are you executive or legislative, or both?

We were a little confused over recent statements that you're not in either.

CHENEY: In either or -- OK maybe the (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Because this building seems to be...

CHENEY: Say both is better.


CHENEY: This has been the office -- the ceremonial office of the vice president, really, since Richard Nixon was vice president under the Eisenhower administration.

But the fact is, for the 150 years before that, the vice president didn't even have an office downtown. His office was only on Capitol Hill.

I have a foot in both camps, if you will, Larry.

As vice president, obviously, I'm next in line to succeed the president if something happens to him. I have an office in the West Wing of the White House. I advise the president. I'm a member of the National Security Council. Those are all executive functions granted to me basically by the president.

At the same time, I have responsibilities under the Constitution for certain things up on Capitol Hill in the Senate. I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer of the Senate. I cast tie breaking votes there. My paycheck actually comes from the Senate.

So the fact is the vice president is sort of a weird duck in the sense that you do have some duties that are executive and some that are legislative.

KING: Does that mean, therefore, there are certain areas you can claim one or the other and not be responsible for one or the other?

CHENEY: Well, I suppose. I try not to do that. A vice president doesn't really run anything, obviously. In the executive branch you do only what the president asks you to do. He's -- he gives you assignments.

But whatever authority you have is -- is delegated by the president himself.

The Constitution, on the other hand, provides for your role as the president of the Senate.

KING: We have an op-ed piece by Walter Mondale, a former vice president, who held your job. And at that time, I guess, up to that time, he would be considered the most powerful vice president.

He wrote that: "After 9/11, Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center in the Office of the Vice President. It was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy, but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the president."

He also accused you of having "a near total aversion to the notion of accountability."

How would you respond to that?

CHENEY: Well, I just -- I think Walter obviously doesn't -- doesn't know or understand or chooses not to know how -- how I, in fact, have operated. That's just not the case.

The fact is, my -- my job has been to serve the president. I've been very clear about that from the beginning. To the extent that I've got staff working for me or that I'm actively involved in the process is to pursue his agenda. I've never had a separate agenda. I don't operate -- I don't freelance. And in terms of accountability, I'm accountable to him.

KING: Were you surprised to see that?

CHENEY: Not especially. I don't have any personal difficulties with Walter Mondale. Politically, we disagreed a lot. He was part of the Carter administration that I thought, frankly, was one of the less effective administrations in recent history. And I was a big supporter of Ronald Reagan's when he beat Mondale overwhelmingly in 1984.

KING: Don't you think this administration has also had its credibility problems?

CHENEY: Well, every administration does, to some extent, Larry. But I think, in the end, it will depend upon the results and what ultimately happens. I think history will judge us well if we're successful in achieving the objectives we've set.

I think the president has made some crucial decisions, very important decisions, very difficult decisions. But I think what we've done in Afghanistan, for example, and in Iraq, which represents liberating 50 million people from two of the worst regimes in -- in modern times, is a very significant achievement.

I think what we've done to defend the nation successfully now for nearly six years against a further attack -- because of the tough decisions we made, because of things like the Terror Surveillance Program and the Patriot Act and because we've gotten aggressive with our forces overseas and prevented further attacks against the United States -- nobody, six years ago, would have believed that it would be possible after 9/11 for us to go this long and not get hit again. But we have.

We have succeeded at it.

KING: So how come?

CHENEY: I think when the history is written that, in fact, it will reflect credit upon this president and upon his administration.

KING: Are you shocked, then, that people hold it in low esteem, that the polls are so...


KING: ...I mean you should be shocked based on the record you -- you have.

CHENEY: I don't worry about the polls. You can't worry about the polls. I saw Gerry Ford -- when I served with him -- when I first met you, Jerry was -- President Ford, was down. It was 70 percent when it started. He ended up in the 30s.

Later, 30 years later, obviously, this last year, when he passed away and we had memorial services and so forth for him, he was held in very high regard. Across the country, his praises were sung for some of the really tough decisions he made that were very unpopular at the time.

KING: We'll be right back with Vice President Cheney after this.


KING: We're back with Vice President Cheney.

Moving on to other areas, Alberto Gonzales.

Do you stand by him?

CHENEY: I do. Al is a good man, a good friend and in a difficult assignment.

KING: Are you troubled by what appears to have happened with the appearance of him not telling the truth?

CHENEY: Well, I don't want to get into the specifics with respect to his testimony and the questions that were asked. I just -- I know Al on a personal and a professional basis and I hold him in high regard.

KING: You're going to stand by him?

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

KING: No doubt about that?

CHENEY: Correct.

KING: In that regard, "The New York Times," which is -- as you said, it's not your favorite paper, reports it was you who dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to then Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital in 2004 to push Ashcroft to certify the president's intelligence gathering program.

Was it you?

CHENEY: I don't recall the -- first of all, I haven't seen the story. I don't recall that I gave instructions to that effect.

KING: That would be something you would recall.

CHENEY: I would think so. But, certainly, I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program and had been responsible and been working with General Hayden and George Tenet to get it to the president for approval.

By the time this occurred, it had already been approved about 12 times by the Department of Justice. There was nothing sort of new about.

KING: But you didn't send them to get Ash...

CHENEY: I don't recall that I was the one who sent them to the hospital.

KING: How about those who would say sometimes even though it may be fine, someone should leave if they're bringing trouble to the office?

If Gonzales is hurting the administration, he should, of his own volition, leave?

CHENEY: Well, the president makes that judgment, Larry.

KING: But he can make the judgment, too.

CHENEY: But the president is the one who asked to evaluate the individuals who served for them. He has confidence in Al and that's good enough for me.

KING: How about Arlen Specter?

Do you respect him?


KING: He thinks he should leave.

CHENEY: I disagree with Arlen from time to time. And I disagree with him on that issue.

KING: The "Scooter" Libby trial, did it pain you?


KING: Did you think he should have been pardoned?

CHENEY: I am glad that the president saw fit to commute "Scooter's" sentence. I thought that was a good outcome and I supported the president's decision.

KING: Down the road, do you think he should be pardoned?

You could still pardon him, can't you?

CHENEY: I don't want to speculate on that, Larry.

I'm -- it's not my decision to make. The president did make the decision, and I supported that decision.

KING: I haven't seen him. I know him.

How is he doing?

CHENEY: Well, he's doing well. You know, he's -- he obviously he went through a very, very difficult time. Very hard for him and for his family. I think having the commutation sentence decided has been a huge relief for him.

But he still has a very difficult road to hoe. He's got -- obviously he needed to find work. He's got legal bills. He's -- carries the burden of having been convicted. All of those are not easy problems.

But he is clearly in -- he's in good spirits and getting on with his life.

KING: Do you keep in touch with him?


KING: Did you call him after the verdict?

CHENEY: I've seen him. I had dinner with him.

KING: The Senate Judiciary Committee is subpoenaing Karl Rove in connection with the firing of federal prosecutors.

Why shouldn't he appear?

CHENEY: There is a strong tradition that the president of the United States is entitled to have people around him who advise him, who do not then have to go before the Congress and testify with respect to the advice they gave the president.

It's different for a cabinet member. For example, with your secretary of defense, you are confirmed by the Senate, you testify before the Senate, you have some accountability to the Senate or to the Congress for testimony. But when you're a senior adviser to the president, as Karl Rove has been, then you are not traditionally required to go testify before the Congress.

So that -- that element of executive privilege, confidentiality of communications between the president and his senior people, is a very important one. And it shouldn't be violated. And I don't believe it will be in this case.

KING: But the public might say, what have you got to hide?

CHENEY: Well, the...

KING: And that would be logical.

What have you got to hide?

CHENEY: There's -- first of all, there is no charge.

You know, what's the allegation of the wrongdoing here?

Frankly, there isn't any. With respect to the U.S. attorneys, there has been, I think, a bit of witch-hunt on Capitol Hill, as they keep rolling over rocks, hoping they can find something. But there really hasn't been anything come up that would suggest there was any wrongdoing of any kind.

And in the meantime, the president feels strongly -- and I do too, I agreed with him -- that it's important for us to pass on these offices we occupy to our successors in as good a shape as we found them. And that means protecting and preserving the integrity of those processes.

KING: So he -- so he will not appear?

CHENEY: I think an offer has been made to work out an arrangement that, in fact, the senior officials would meet with members of Congress -- but not under oath, not in public, no transcript -- to discuss these issues. And the committee has rejected that.

KING: We're running quickly out of time.

We have one segment left.

But quickly, on Saudi Arabia.

The king has slammed the invasion of Iraq and we sell arms?

A contradiction?

CHENEY: Well, he -- he disagreed with the invasion. But I think, my experience with the king has been that he's a good friend of the United States. He may differ with us from time to time. We may have differences of opinion. But I've worked with him going back to the very early days, for example, of Operation Desert Storm, when I was secretary of defense. We've had a relationship with the Saudis going back 60 years. And they are good friends and allies of the United States.

KING: And you agree with the sale?

CHENEY: Absolutely. I support it. I think it's very important that our friends in the region who are out there -- the Saudis and other states in the Gulf -- Kuwait, the Emirates, Oman and so forth -- have the resources they need to be able to defend themselves and to be able to work with the United States to defend themselves.

And they live in a very unstable and uncertain part of the world.

KING: Some more questions for the vice president right after this.


KING: We're back with Vice President Cheney. Al Qaeda up and running again in Pakistan. Are we going after them?

CHENEY: Well, we work closely with President Musharraf and his government in Pakistan. We've captured and killed a lot of al Qaeda in Pakistan but it's obviously a sovereign state. They've got reason to go after al Qaeda. So we work together.

KING: What if they ask us to come in?

CHENEY: Well, the -- I don't expect that to happen. I think the relationship we have at present is a good one. And we have been able to collaborate closely together on a wide range of operations. And I think we'll be able to continue doing it.

KING: Would you make an overt move on Iran?

CHENEY: For what reason?

KING: For reasons of information you have that we don't.


CHENEY: No, I'm not going to speculate about perspective...

KING: How worried are you about that?

CHENEY: ... operations. Well, I'm concerned about Iran. I think everybody is and should be. We see a state that periodically announces that their objective, the destruction of Israel, for example. Mr. Ahmadinejad, the prime minister, has -- periodically makes very threatening statements.

They are actively the development of the capacity to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons. And we have been working diplomatically with our friends in Europe and the E.U. to get them to give up those aspirations. So far they haven't responded.

A great many people are concerned about Iran.

KING: General Powell says he would close Guantanamo yesterday. Would you?

CHENEY: No. No, I think you need to have some place to hold those individuals who have been captured during the global war on terror. I'm thinking of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This is a man who we captured in Pakistan. He is the mastermind of 9/11. He probably has more responsibility than anybody else, with the possible exception of Osama bin Laden, for the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. He is now in custody. We need to hold him someplace. He is held at Guantanamo.

There are hundreds of people like that. And if you closed Guantanamo, you would have to find someplace else to put these folks.

KING: Do you have to torture them when they're there?

CHENEY: We don't do torture.

KING: How come in the past though there's been a question on that?

CHENEY: Well...

KING: Have you ever said, "We support certain methods of physical harm?"

CHENEY: We support the ability of certain agencies of the federal government to have the capacity to use enhanced techniques for interrogation. We have authorization that we got from the Congress to in fact do that. And they do it under very careful safeguards and very stringent safeguards.

We're careful not to torture. We're not in the business of torturing people. That wouldn't...

KING: What is "enhanced"?

CHENEY: That would not be -- we don't discuss the specific techniques, because the last thing you want to do is tell your potential adversary what your techniques are because that would allow them to train and practice to resist them.

KING: A member of the Department of Defense sent Hillary Clinton a letter saying she should not criticize because it helps the enemy. Do you agree with that letter?

CHENEY: It didn't say she should criticism. She was demanding the plans for withdrawal from Iraq. And...

KING: Do you agree with that letter?

CHENEY: I agreed with the letter Eric Edelman wrote. I thought it was good letter.

KING: So you should not call for the plans for withdrawal?

CHENEY: No. There is an important principle here, Larry, and that is a debate over what our policy ought to be, perfectly legitimate. What we don't do is we don't get into the business of sharing operational plans; we never have, with the Congress.

And to get into that business would be, for example, like saying during the course of Desert Storm, we deployed Marines off the coast of Kuwait. We never planned to put those Marines ashore in Kuwait, but the Iraqis didn't know that. So they put five or six divisions down there to block that.

We wouldn't release that kind of information or discuss that kind of information in advance of the operation. If you get into the business of talking about operational planning by the Department of Defense, you don't share that as a general proposition until you are ready to actually go out and execute those orders, and then you might share it with the Congress at that point.

But to get into the business now where we have got all of these contingencies, we always have got a lot of contingencies, where we are going to start shedding those to respond to political charges, such as those that Senator Clinton made, I think would be unwise.

KING: Two other things. People who work for you, mostly, are working for Fred Thompson. Can we read something into that?

CHENEY: I'm totally neutral in the upcoming presidential contest. I will support the Republican nominee. And the fact that others have signed on with Fred or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, they're all good men. I hope one of them is the next president of the United States. But I haven't gotten involved in any of those efforts.

KING: I think that they knew Lynne Cheney was with you, right, when they put a new -- they put a new defibrillator or a new battery?

CHENEY: It's a whole new unit. It's the ICD, intercardial defibrillator, I think it's called. And the old one was about six years old. And they just take it out and plug in a new one, and away you go.

KING: And they knock you out, right?

CHENEY: Yes. You are under when they do it. You go in at 8:00 in the morning, I was out by noon. It's a relatively painless process.

KING: It's never gone off, right?

CHENEY: It's never gone off. It's fantastic technology. But it's -- I have never had to have it go off.

KING: What are you going to do in February '09?

CHENEY: I have no idea. I haven't given it any thought. KING: Would you ever run for office?

CHENEY: I have run for office now...

KING: I mean again.

CHENEY: ... eight times. I wouldn't. I have fulfilled my desires in that regard. I have no plans to seek office.

KING: Would you take a government post in a Republican administration?

CHENEY: Probably not.

KING: Probably.

CHENEY: Probably not. I can't think of one. I have had a great tour, Larry. I got the great privilege of serving in Congress for 10 years, for President Ford and four years as secretary of defense, eight years as vice president. It's been a tremendous experience, a great career, but there is -- time comes when you need to recognize it's over. And for me that'll be January of '09.

KING: And as Yogi said, "It ain't over 'til it is over."

CHENEY: "It ain't over 'til it's over." That's right. Good to see you again.

KING: Same here. Vice President Dick Cheney, back with more after this.


KING: We're back following the appearance of the vice president and we have limited time and outstanding guests so we're going to get right to it. The guests are Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM," Bob Woodward, editor and publisher and prized winning reporter of "The Washington Post," Suzanne Malveaux, CNN's terrific Washington correspondent; and Stephen Hayes, "The New York Times" best-selling author. His new book is "Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President."

Wolf, gut reaction?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I thought it was vintage Dick Cheney. He doesn't deviate what from he strongly believes. He's made those arguments many times before. He didn't seem to be overly reactive to the criticisms that he's getting, whether it would be from an Arlen Specter or Brent Scowcroft or a Colin Powell or -- one of the things I thought was interesting was the swipe he took at Senator Clinton, the Democratic party front-runner when he endorsed that letter that that senior Pentagon official Erik Edelman, a letter that the defense secretary later seemed to distance himself from saying he regretted it had any misunderstandings. Cheney said he thought it was a terrific letter.

KING: Bob?

BOB WOODWARD, EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": First of all, the defense of the Iraq war was even more than the president himself gives. I mean said everything -- all the decisions were sound. Yes, mistakes were made, but the strategy was right. Well, anyone who has followed the war would know that they have shifted strategy. And in fact lots of people would say they have really not had a strategy. And the president has said publicly that last fall he was very unhappy with where they were.

And so Cheney in classic form presents it as four-year continuum of sound, good decisions with a few mistakes. No sense, and I think one of the criticisms of the handling of the war is the failure to recalibrate to say oh, this has not gone well or this has not worked or this person has -- and we've been in that war for four and a half years, no wavering.

KING: Suzanne, that comes from clearly, he never self-doubts.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that was an interesting question because he said, no, he doesn't doubt. They go through this process of looking at all the alternatives. I think what was really interesting was the fact that he says he's an independent agent here and he's always been that he's been able to have this relationship with the president that has been so unique because as you said he's not looking to run for office. He's not even looking perhaps to even have a post in a Republican administration. It's given him an incredible amount of latitude here, and he seems very comfortable with that role.

KING: Stephen, you spent a lot of time with him in writing your book. What did you get from today?

STEPHEN HAYES, AUTHOR, "CHENEY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICA'S MOST POWERFUL & CONTROVERSIAL VICE PRESIDENT": Well, I thought there were two things of particular interest that came out of interview. One was when you asked him sort of the baseline question about his popularity. I mean you went at him a couple times and he didn't give you a straightforward answer. And then you said, "Don't you really just want to be liked?" And his answer to me, who doesn't want to be liked, right? His answer was up to a point, which I just thought was fascinating to hear somebody say well, I don't really care if I'm liked that much.

And then the other -- and I'm not sure, you know, we could probably make too much of it, but the other answer that he gave that I thought was particularly interesting was when you asked him if he would accept a post in another Republican administration, and he didn't rule it out.


HAYES: I mean he's ruled out running for president in every way imaginable. The idea that he would come back and take another position in another Republican administration, you know, blows me away if he actually would really consider that. BLITZER: He said, "Probably not."

KING: Probably.


KING: Let's listen again to what the president had to say about Alberto Gonzales.


KING: Alberto Gonzales, do you stand by him?

CHENEY: I do. Al's a good man, a good friend and in a difficult assignment.

KING: Are you troubled by what appears to have happened with the appearance of him not telling the truth?

CHENEY: Well, I don't want to get into the specifics with respect to his testimony and the questions that were requested. I just -- I know Al on a personal band professional basis and I hold him in high regard.

KING: You're going to stand by him?

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

KING: No doubt about that?

CHENEY: Correct.


KING: Both Stephen and I felt a little hesitancy, Wolf, there. I didn't...

BLITZER: I didn't see a whole lot. I mean he clearly says we're standing by...

KING: Maybe body language.

BLITZER: ...Alberto Gonzales. I thought it interesting that one question you asked, Larry, when he said -- when you reported that "The New York Times" had mentioned that it was his idea to send the then White House Council Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card to George Washington University Hospital where John Ashcroft was really sick and ailing and to get hem to sign some paper to continue some secret or wireless program that was going on. And you said, "Did you ask him? And he said, "I don't recall." And you correctly pointed out well, that's the kind of thing you would recall. But I think he's going -- he's going to get lampooned a little bit for that one, the "I don't recall" answer.

KING: Bob, we'll pick up with you in a minute. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Bob Woodward, will they pick up on "I don't recall?"

WOODWARD: I don't know. I mean, this isn't Cheney's portfolio, unfortunately or fortunately, the Justice Department and so I think it's -- he made it pretty clear it's between Gonzales and the president. And he, Cheney, you know, he's reading intelligence reports all day.

KING: Scooter Libby, pretty strong for him?

MALVEAUX: Well, obviously, he is very strong for him and he's always felt that he's innocent here.

The thing that I thought was really interesting about Gonzales is what he said, you know, he -- the president supports him and that's good enough because a lot of the people we talked to inside the White House and outside the White House say that the president has basically said this: he's staying, he's sticking around, I don't want any speculation, I don't want any talk about it, so therefore, everybody just be quiet because he is going to stay. And I think that's one thing that they are very, very solid on.

KING: Before we went on, Bob Woodward, he was praising your book, Stephen. A lot of critics have said it's very pro Cheney. He told me today he's halfway through and he's enjoying it. Is it pro Cheney?

HAYES: Well, I would I say, and I did say this in the beginning, that the authors noted at the very outset, I came to the book sympathetic to Dick Cheney. And I basically agree with most of his views. I don't start from the premise that the man is evil which it seems lake a lot of people in Washington these days do.

I started from the premise that here's a guy who has worked not only in government for 40 years but at the very highest levels of government. And anybody who has been, you know, who worked in the Nixon administration, chief of staff in the Ford administration, served in Congress, secretary of defense and now vice president will have absolutely fascinating stories to tell if he's willing to tell them. And I thought frankly in his time with me he did tell a lot of those stories.

WOODWARD: If I can -- what I liked about that book I maybe unintentionally Stephen uncovered some things. There is a debate between Cheney and Newt Gingrich in 1980 in which Cheney is talking about the presidency and this is the Vietnam/Watergate period and he says, "The alleged abuses." He talks about the myth of the imperial presidency.

In 1980, I think that was clear to everyone. There's a little history that Cheney seems to have forgotten that the abuses were not alleged. In fact, it was the Republican Party and Barry Goldwater who forced Nixon to resign because there were too many lies and too many crimes. KING: Here's another toss to the video of him discussing which branch of government the vice president belongs to.


CHENEY: I have a foot in both camps, if you will, Larry. As vice president obviously I'm next in line to succeed the president if something happens to him. I have an office in the West Wing of the White House. I advise the president. I'm a member of the National Security Council. And those are all executive functions granted to me basically by the president.

At the same time I have responsibilities under the Constitution for certain things up on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer of the Senate. I cast tie-breaking votes there. My paycheck actually comes from the Senate.


KING: Wolf, he's everything.

BLITZER: I didn't know that. I learned something. I didn't know that he actually gets his paycheck from the Legislative Branch of the government, from the U.S. Senate. I also didn't know that the Office of the Vice President was actually up on Capitol Hill. All the time before the Nixon administration, that the vice president actually didn't even have an office in the White House or the old executive office building next door to the White House until the Nixon administration. So there were a couple of historic nuances that I thought were intriguing.

KING: Suzanne, does that then cause him to ride both rails?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it's amazing because when this argument was first presented a lot of Republican friends, friends of the White House, thought it was really ridiculous. They thought it was quite a stretch and it was something, he had to explain himself. They thought it was really baffling. And it was troubling the fact that he uses the point that he's part of the Executive Branch when they talk about executive privilege, when they talk about declassifying documents.

So it was a problem and obviously his own office realized it's a problem when they started to change the explanation. They conveniently and quietly no longer use that face. They actually dismissed it.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with this outstanding panel. Don't go away.


KING: We only have two and a half minute left. Where is it all going, Bob? WOODWARD: You know, he's -- he made it clear he's going to stay there until January 20, 2009. I suspect he will. I thought he gave a good answer about being in the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. And getting the paycheck from Congress might give the Democratic majority some ideas. They could perhaps take him off the payroll.

KING: What do you think, Stephen?

HAYES: I think they have tried something along those same lines not long ago. I think that's right. I mean I think -- it was interesting to me that he said he didn't know exactly what he was going to do after he leaves office.

In talking to those people around him, it seems clear that he's going to spend a lot of time fly fishing, which he does at every opportunity, and a lot of time with his kids and his grandkids. He's much more of a family man, I think, and I mean that sort in the traditional sense but also in the political sense. He relies, I think, quite heavily on advice from his wife and his two daughters as he conducts himself in office.

KING: Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, it was really -- it was fascinating. I guess a little bit of gallows humor, dark humor, when he was temporarily the president for two hours or so when President Bush had his colonoscopy. A lot of people wondered what he was doing, if he was going to pardon Scooter Libby at that point or if he was going to take any action. But it seems as if he's quite happy in where he is in his position and particularly looking forward to history to see how he'll be judged.

BLITZER: And that exchange you had on presidents who didn't necessarily seem all that popular at the time who turned out to be much more popular over time, the Gerald Ford example. He was the chief of staff. He had gone from 70 percent down to 30 percent, his approval numbers. But then when he passed away, there were glowing tributes to what Gerald Ford did.

And I think he takes some comfort in that. And so much of what happens down the road, as all of us know, will depend on what happens in Iraq.

KING: We're out of time -- Bob?

WOODWARD: Well, just real quickly, I mean he has a view of increasing the power of the presidency at the expense of Congress. If you look at the details, he should want a strong Congress. Everyone should want a strong president and a strong Congress. And some of his ideas belong in another century, in fact.

KING: Thanks all very much.

"AC 360" with Anderson Cooper live from Los Angeles is next.