Dick Cheney Explains Why He's Unbound
Dick Cheney finally explained last night in a brief interview with the Sleuth how he has suddenly transformed himself from the most secretive man in government to the country's biggest motormouth.
We caught the once-silent, now-chatty former vice president as he was leaving the annual Gerald R. Ford White House reunion dinner at the Willard InterContinental hotel and asked him why - after eight years in power of being so notoriously "shy," as we demurred - he is now one of the most ubiquitous faces on cable television.
His wife, Lynn Cheney, who tried to pull him away, answered for him. "He's not shy, you've been misled," Mrs. Cheney said, tugging on hubby's arm.
Cheney momentarily resisted her pressure to leave and answered for himself: "I wasn't shy when I was secretary of defense."
He then explained that his role as vice president in the Bush administration kept him tongue-tied. "It was a job that required me to give advice. And I thought it better to do it in private than in public," Cheney said.
As his wife whisked him up the stairs to leave, we asked Cheney when the memoir he is actively shopping to various publishing houses might be released. (The New York Times hinted that Cheney is having a tough time getting any takers for the more than $2 million advance he is seeking.)
"I'm working on it," Cheney said over his shoulder before he and his wife and small Secret Service contingent left the hotel.
What was most striking about Cheney up close was how remarkably healthy and less stressed he looks compared to the image of the haggard and beleaguered outgoing vice president who sat bundled up in a wheelchair grimacing for President Obama's inauguration.
The former veep was one of several famous faces in the elderly crowd streaming out of the 27th Ford reunion dinner, which draws nearly the same assembly each year of Ford aides, congressional cronies and even reporters.
Besides Cheney, who was Ford's chief of staff, others who attended last night's dinner included: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger; Alan Greenspan, chairman of Ford's Council of Economic Advisers; Carla Hills, housing secretary; press secretary Ron Nessen; and Justice John Paul Stevens, Ford's only Supreme Court appointee.
Donald Rumsfeld, who usually attends the Ford dinner, was not there last night. Nor was Brent Scowcroft, Ford's national security adviser, who had a falling out with Cheney over the Iraq war.
The Gerald R. Ford Foundation presented Kissinger with a special gift on behalf of the ailing Betty Ford (who did not attend the dinner): a set of Jerry Ford's favorite Waterford crystal bookends.
Stevens, the most senior member of the Supreme Court who turned 89 in April, spoke for 23 minutes at the dinner (though he made no news), according to attendees, reminiscing about his confirmation hearing in 1975. He said his "ambition" as a new associate justice was to invite President Ford to ride in his Cessna 172 single engine plane. ("But I never had the nerve to ask him," Stevens said.)
White House press corps icon Helen Thomas, who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, and Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief of the New York Daily News, were the only two active journalists invited to the dinner.
DeFrank wrote a book, published two years ago, about his off-the-record conversations with President Ford called "Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford."
DeFrank, whose once close relationship with Cheney has been severed by his tough coverage in recent years, got a double dose of Cheney yesterday. His take on the former vice president's widely covered National Press Club speech (in which Cheney said states should have the right to legalize gay marriage) was the top Google news story on the speech.
DeFrank's headline: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney 'a strong believer' in waterboarding."
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