The 5th column attack on the Office of the Vice President (OVP) heated up a bit this week. This time is was in allegations about the OVP not following Executive Orders.

Way back when, the Vice President was elected separately from the President. That was changed when it was decided that both the Vice President and the President should be more of a political unity. What that meant was that the OVP was not elected directly but rather vetted by the election of the President.

That did not change the fact that the Vice President is independent of the President and not a subordinate. The VP’s duties are (basically) to preside over the Senate and to stand by as a successor to the President if necessary. Anything else is on a voluntary basis as requested or allowed. The accountability in the OVP is to the electorate directly and not to the President nor to the Congress.

That is the issue at hand. Some folks in Congress think they should be in charge.

Executive Orders are the President’s instructions to his subordinates in the Executive Branch. The ultimate authority behind these orders is that of employee discipline. Since the President cannot fire the VP, the only way to enforce Executive Orders on the OVP is to either allow or disallow the OVP’s involvement in the actions that involve them.

Laws are another matter. These, of course, are supposed to be followed by everyone. An example of trying to pin lawbreaking on the OVP was the Plame case that resulted in an aid being convicted of not keeping his story straight.

In the latest brouhaha, it is Executive Orders about procedure for maintaining classified information secret. The OVP is doing its own thing rather than submitting to the Executive Agency procedures that are mandatory for others. Again, the Plame case can be seen as an example of why the OVP is maintaining its own policies.

The 5th Column has had the OVP in its cross hairs for a long time. There have been a lot of allegations about secrecy and other suspicious behavior. Of course it sounds really, really serious! The problem is that any attempt to get out of the wacko conspiracy theory realm with these allegations has either fizzled or made the theories look silly. So far.

A good key to look at in many of these 5th Column attacks is whether they are about process or result. S. Berger and the National Archives case was based on a result. The Executive Order thing on handling classified documents case is a complaint about a process. Our system of civil justice is built on the idea that a crime must occur before we start assigning guilt. Much of the political dialog seems to be assumptions of guilt looking for a crime. In these cases of “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” there is a solid answer that can be used as a test for credibility. The crime should come first.

Persistence in calling things a crime despite repeated court judgments, precedence, history, or other matters is not an indication on intellectual integrity, either. If you want to make something a crime that isn’t, get a law passed.

There are ways to disagree but alleging misconduct as a manner of disagreement does not do you credit. Find the misconduct, demonstrate that it is misconduct, and then show that it did indeed happen. Then you can at least help keep government honest. But going on and on about how the OVP not following an Executive Order belongs right up there with the Watergate burglary isn’t going to gain you much credibility in the thinking crowd.

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