Cheney Defends Presidential Powers, U.S. Spying

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During a trip to the Middle East and South Asia, Vice President Dick Cheney defends the use of presidential powers and domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks. He also met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and surveyed areas damaged by the massive earthquake in October.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Reports of US domestic surveillance continue to draw fire today as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee pressed for an inquiry. Overseas, Vice President Dick Cheney fielded questions on the subject from reporters traveling on Air Force Two. NPR White House correspondent David Greene was with the vice president.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

He said that four years after the September 11th attacks, he and the president are doing everything they possibly can to keep the nation safe. He said that the NSA wiretap program is limited. And he looked to his critics and suggested that those who are questioning that program as well as the success of the Patriot Act basically have the view that four years after 9/11, `Gee, there's really not a threat there at all.' So pretty tough and no sign of wavering on the program whatsoever.

NORRIS: The vice president was also specifically asked about his views on presidential authority. What did he have to say?

GREENE: You know, Dick Cheney served in the Ford White House at a post-Watergate time, when executive power and presidential legitimacy was really at a low point. And a reporter traveling asked him about that, and he really reflected for a bit. And he believed that especially in the area of national security, presidential constitutional power should not be impaired at all. He and the president have worked to regain what he described as the legitimate power of the presidency. So it was summarizing what we've seen from this vice president and this president over the last few years.

NORRIS: And tell us about his day today.

GREENE: He was in Pakistan for the day. He went to Islamabad first, where he met with Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf. They exchanged brief remarks in front of reporters, talked about the earthquake that really pounded Pakistan back in October, and Musharraf said that he never could have done the relief effort without US help. And then Cheney did an aerial tour in a helicopter of some of the worst-hit areas and landed at a MASH unit six miles from the epicenter that was run by the US military. It's a makeshift hospital in tents; there's even an ICU unit.

And what was interesting is we were told by officials there, military officials, that at this point only about 30 percent of the injuries coming in are actually from the earthquake. So it's become, really, a central provider of health care for a region that really needed it. The question's going to be: When the military has to move it out and redeploy, what's this region going to do?

NORRIS: David, you sound like you're on the move now. Where are you right at this moment?

GREENE: Well, we're on the move back to the airport in Oman. We were supposed to have a night here and then head tomorrow for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but the vice president is coming back to Washington. We were told that Senator Bill Frist has asked him to come back early, to be there in case he has to cast some tie-breaking votes in the Senate in his formal role as president of the Senate.

NORRIS: So he's cutting his trip short and heading back to Washington.

GREENE: Heading back to Washington, indeed.

NORRIS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: A pleasure, Michele.

NORRIS: NPR White House correspondent David Greene joining us from Muscat, Oman.

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