Cheney is accused of trying to abolish an oversight office.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Vice President Cheney's office circumvented the system for overseeing classified documents and then moved to abolish the National Archives' office challenging its actions, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said Thursday.
According to letters released by the committee, the vice president's office said it was not an "entity within the executive branch" and was therefore exempt from rules established in a presidential order for the National Archives to oversee classified information.
"Your decision to exempt your office from the president's order is problematic because it could place national security at risk," Waxman, D-California, wrote in a letter to Cheney that the committee released.
After receiving repeated requests to comply by the oversight office at the National Archives, and a follow-up request to Attorney General Gonzales asking that he help resolve the matter, Cheney's office instead retaliated, recommending the National Archives office be disbanded, the Waxman letter said.
William Leonard, head of the National Archives office in question, told the Oversight Committee that Cheney's team attempted to get a provision in the presidential order - which is currently being revised - that would have prevented the National Archives from appealing to the attorney general.
"Mr. Leonard also said that your office proposed a more drastic change," Waxman wrote in his letter to Cheney. "According to Mr. Leonard, your office urged the inter-agency committee considering revisions to the executive order to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office."
Waxman said that the vice president's office then tried to get the revised order to exclude the office of the Vice President.
Cheney's office would neither confirm nor deny it tried to abolish the National Archives office.
"We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law," said Megan McGinn, deputy press secretary for Cheney, when asked about the Waxman letter.
The executive order - intended to maintain the integrity of classified documents - was established by President Clinton and revised by President Bush in 2003. It is being revised again.
The 2003 version directed the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office to oversee a program of education and supervision of classified document protection and maintenance. According to Waxman, the office has worked with different White House groups, including the National Security Council.
But when the National Archives' office attempted to visit Cheney's team in 2004, it was prevented from doing so by Cheney's staff, Waxman wrote in the letter. The office had complied with the order in 2001 and 2002, but started refusing to do so in 2003.
In 2006, William Leonard, director of the Information Security Office, wrote to Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, to contest the office's refusal to comply and was told that the vice president's office "does not believe it is included in the definition of 'agency' as set forth in the order," nor is it an "entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information," according to letters released Thursday by Waxman's committee.
In a letter to Gonzales requesting intervention on the matter, Leonard questioned the rationale presented by the vice president office.
"If the (office of the vice president) is not considered an entity within the executive branch, I am concerned that it could impede access to classified information by the OVP staff, in that such access would be considered a disclosure outside the executive branch," Leonard wrote last January.
The vice president's office has been criticized for being secretive before. In 2001, the office refused to divulge the names of energy executives who had consulted with Cheney on U.S. energy policy.
The decision was challenged and upheld by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court referred the case back to a lower court.
– CNN Washington Bureau Director of Coverage Adam Levine