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POST-DEBATE FALLOUT

Photos undermine Cheney's assertion he never met Edwards

Democrats slam VP's integrity

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney insisted Tuesday night that he had never met his opponent, Senator John Edwards. But Democrats have unearthed photographic evidence showing otherwise.

During the vice presidential debate, Cheney chided Edwards for being a virtual no-show in the Senate. "Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight," Cheney said to Edwards, who did not refute the comments during the debate.

But the men appear to have met at least three times, and Democrats are seizing on Cheney's misstatement.

Cheney is "still not being straight with the American people," Edwards told a rally of supporters after the debate.

In a picture speedily posted on the Internet, Democrats revealed Cheney and Edwards standing next to each other at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in February 2001. The men are not speaking to each other -- or even looking at each other -- in the photo, but a transcript of the event shows that Cheney mentioned Edwards by name in his remarks that day.

Further, the Kerry-Edwards campaign said, Cheney saw Edwards again when the senior senator from North Carolina -- as is tradition -- accompanied the state's junior senator, Republican Elizabeth Dole, when she was sworn in to the Senate in 2003. Cheney, as president of the Senate, swore in Dole.

The vice presidential candidates also met and shook hands, off camera, during a taping of NBC's "Meet the Press" in April 2001, the show's host, Tim Russert, said yesterday on "Today."

Republicans dismissed the events as a series of typically forgettable encounters in Washington, where cocktail parties are all business, and where lawmakers commonly greet people with the words "Nice to see you" to avoid acknowledging whether they had previously met.

"I have no idea how many times they've passed each other. Everyone in Washington passes by each other," said Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee.

Cheney correctly noted that Edwards has been rarely seen in the Senate since he began running for national office. But Cheney himself -- despite his role as president of the Senate -- meets with only Republican senators during the party's policy luncheons on Tuesdays, and Democrats have long said the vice president ignores senators of the other party.

"I've been here 30 years. He's the first vice president I've known who's spent time only with members of his own party," said Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. "He zips into the Republican conference and zips out."

As president of the Senate, the vice president is tasked with casting tie-breaking votes but rarely presides over the chamber's proceedings. But Leahy said earlier vice presidents -- including President Bush's father -- spent time on Capitol Hill talking to senators in both parties.

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