A National Archives official reveals what the veep wanted to keep classified–and how he tried to challenge the rules
By Michael Isikoff | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dec 24, 2007
J. William Leonard learned the hard way the perils of questioning . The veteran National Archives official challenged claims by the (OVP) to be exempt from federal rules governing classified information. His efforts touched off a firestorm—and a counter-strike by Cheney’s chief of staff, , who tried to wipe out Leonard’s job. (Addington did not respond to requests for comment on the subject.)
Now, Leonard is quitting as director of the Archives’—the unit that monitors the handling of government secrets. He tells NEWSWEEK that his fight with Cheney’s office was a "contributing" factor in his decision to retire after 34 years of government service.
Leonard-described by National Archivist Allen Weinstein as "the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government"-spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Michael Isikoff. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Explain how all this happened.
Leonard: Up until 2002, OVP was just like any other agency. Subsequent to that, they stopped reporting to us…At first, I took that to be, ‘we’re too busy.’ Then we routinely attempted to do a review of the OVP and it was at that point in time it was articulated back to me that: ‘well they weren’t really subject to our reviews.’ I didn’t agree with it. But you know, there is a big fence around the . I didn’t know how I could get in there if somebody didn’t want me to.
NEWSWEEK: So how did matters escalate?
Leonard: The challenge arose last year when the Chicago Tribune was looking at [ISOO’s annual report] and saw the asterisk [reporting that it contained no information from OVP] and decided to follow up. And that’s when the spokesperson from the OVP made public this idea that because they have both legislative and executive functions, that requirement doesn’t apply to them.…They were saying the basic rules didn’t apply to them. I thought that was a rather remarkable position. So I wrote my letter to the Attorney General [asking for a ruling that Cheney’s office had to comply.] Then it was shortly after that there were [email] recommendations [from OVP to a National Security Council task force] to change the executive order that would effectively abolish [my] office.NEWSWEEK: Who wrote the emails?
Leonard: It was David Addington…