WASHINGTON -- Dick Cheney, who has wielded extraordinary executive power as he transformed the image of the vice presidency, is asserting that his office is not actually part of the executive branch.
In a simmering dispute with the National Archives that heated up yesterday, Cheney has long maintained that he does not have to comply with an executive order on safeguarding classified information because his office is part of the Legislature.
Cheney, whose single constitutional duty is to serve as president of the Senate, holds that the vice president's office is not an "entity within the executive branch" and therefore not subject to annual reporting or periodic on-site inspections under the 1995 executive order, which President Bush updated four years ago.
The vice president has been refusing to cooperate with the National Archives office assigned to oversee the handling of classified data since 2003.
"We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law," said Lea Anne McBride, vice presidential spokeswoman.
Democrats took the opposite view. Henry A. Waxman, House Oversight Committee chairman, in a letter posted on the Internet yesterday, told Cheney it was "irresponsible" to reject security oversight.
"Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information," the California Democrat wrote.
He cited the conviction of former top Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for lying in the investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative.
Waxman said he had learned that Cheney's office, in a move that "could be construed as retaliation," had tried to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office, the division of the National Archives set up to enforce safeguards for classified information in executive agencies.
Waxman said the oversight office head told congressional investigators the vice president's staff had not been successful.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, when asked about Cheney's assertion that his office is part of the legislative branch, quipped, "I always thought that he was president of this administration."