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David S. Addington: A Second Act (Full Story)
Comments () | Published June 6, 2011
Even with a golden résumé that included a tour as general counsel at the Pentagon and his widely acknowledged skills as a lawyer, Addington had lots of baggage. His reputation as an intellectual bully made an impression on the Washington legal establishment.

Ultimately, he landed a position in one of the nation’s largest think tanks, the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was named vice president of the Domestic & Economic Policy Division last September, more than a year and a half after leaving the White House.

Addington recently sat down with The Washingtonian for two interviews, his first since joining Heritage. He showed a serious, tough, but polite and even amiable demeanor. At times he questioned the premises of questions. He was precise in his responses. He never got riled or showed the combative side that many others have seen. Though guarded, he seems to have turned a page.

Apparently suspicious of how recordings of the interviews might be used, he prohibited taping. A Heritage spokesman promised that Addington would speak slowly.

At times, his approach provoked head scratching. He parried questions about the “powerful Dick Cheney,” saying, “I disagree with the premise.” He claimed that the office of the Vice President has “no power in a legal sense, no authority.” To the extent it has influence, he said, that’s “a function of whether you are persuasive or not. A President doesn’t have to listen if he doesn’t want to.”

Addington had lots of baggage. His reputation as an intellectual bully made an impression on the Washington legal establishment.

All of that is true as a history lesson on the weakness of the Vice President’s office. After all, one of the most familiar historical aphorisms came courtesy of John Nance Garner, who served under FDR and said of his office: “The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

But in the context of Cheney’s tenure under George W. Bush, it seems ridiculous to think in those terms. It’s a pretty good bet that virtually all historians would rate Cheney as one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in history, if not the most. It took a while—until the second interview—for Addington to acknowledge that, yes, Cheney was quite influential with Bush.

When Addington was asked about the most widely circulated criticism of him—that he had an extraordinarily expansive view of presidential powers—he again parried, saying he only did what all good lawyers do in representing their clients; he had been just as aggressive in protecting Congress’s interests when he worked on Capitol Hill: “My job as an attorney with all clients, [whether] House committees or a Vice President of the United States, is to zealously advocate the interests of my clients within the bounds of the law.”

There were other quibbles. But while Addington’s intensity is obvious, he also seems to have put his sharp elbows down. Whether that’s a temporary move to beguile a journalist in a rare interview or is a real change in style remains to be seen. What’s clear is that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong: There are second acts in American lives.

Next: Addington's testy Congressional hearing

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Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 06/06/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles