I haven't followed the kerfuffle over Dick Cheney's handling of classified material very closely, mostly because it looked like one of the mountains that Cheney's critics like to make out of molehills. However, this issue does hold a political if not legal vulnerability for the White House and Republicans over the perception of way that the administration wields its power, and is worth a second look for conservatives (via Memeorandum):
The White House defended Vice President Cheney yesterday in a dispute over his office's refusal to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified information as Democrats and other critics assailed him for disregarding rules that others follow.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Cheney is not obligated to submit to oversight by an office that safeguards classified information, as other members and parts of the executive branch are. Cheney's office has contended that it does not have to comply because the vice president serves as president of the Senate, which means that his office is not an "entity within the executive branch."
"This is a little bit of a nonissue," Perino said at a briefing dominated by the issue. Cheney is not subject to the executive order, she said, "because the president gets to decide whether or not he should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should."
Democratic critics said Cheney is distorting the plain meaning of the executive order. "Vice President Cheney is expanding the administration's policy on torture to include tortured logic," said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "In the end, neither Mr. Cheney or his staff is above the law or the Constitution."
This dispute has two aspects to it, one political and one legal, and neither benefit the White House, at least not the way it is handling the issue. President Bush set rules governing the handling of classified material for the entire executive branch in a 2003 presidential order. If he wanted to exclude the White House and the Vice-President's office in that order, he could have explicitly done so at the time. Without another order specifically doing that, the 2003 order should cover all executive-branch offices, including Bush and Cheney. The rule of law applies, not the rule of whim, and without another order outlining the specific responsibilities of the President and VP, that's what Bush and Cheney's demands appear to be.
While the legal case is tenuous at best -- no one disputes that Bush could modify the order if necessary -- the political case is solidly foolish. Why pick this fight? Is there a rational reason why the President and VP cannot comply with the same standards applied to the rest of the executive branch? If so, that argument has not found its way outside of the administration, leading people to wonder what the two have to hide.
The VP has strained credulity by arguing that he doesn't belong to the executive branch at all, and that the order therefore doesn't apply. Of course the VP is a member of the executive branch; he's elected in tandem with the President through the Electoral College. He didn't get elected President of the Senate, a title that springs from the authority of being VP, not the reverse. Arguing otherwise makes Cheney look ridiculous and desperate, begging the question of what has caused the desperation.
American culture and identity was formed on the basis that no man is above the law, not even Presidents and Vice-Presidents. If the executive order puts too much burden on the White House, then Bush should revoke or amend it, and explain why it's necessary to do so. Stop trying to pretend that the VP is a member of the legislature and playing damaging games.
UPDATE: I'd say the Constitution is rather clear on this. Article 2, section 1 starts:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Arguing that the VP belongs to the legislative branch either looks like desperation or a Constitutional illiteracy that should disturb everyone, not just Democrats.