Cheney, on CBS's "Face the Nation," said that congressional leaders, including Rockefeller, didn't object to the government program to wiretap phone conversations without warrants when Cheney first told them about it in 2003. Rockefeller, then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committeee, later wrote a letter voicing his concerns about the program.
Cheney said Sunday he didn't know why Rockefeller wrote the letter.
"I always felt it was a bit of a CYA letter, that, in those crucial meetings, when we sat down to debate the program and tell them about it, in fact, everybody in the room signed up to it," Cheney said. "Nobody objected."
"CYA" is slang for "cover your a--."
Read below Cheney's full exchange with CBS's Bob Schieffer about Rockefeller and the wiretapping program.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back again with the vice president.
Mr. Vice President, in an interview last month with Chris Wallace over at Fox, you said that starting in 2001, the administration and in many cases you personally kept congressional leaders fully briefed on the program to monitor America's international phone calls without a warrant. You said that the Republican and Democratic leaders were unanimous when you briefed them that the programs were essential and did not require further congressional action. But the New York Times has noted that Senator Rockefeller wrote you a letter in 2003, reiterating concerns that he said he had expressed at those meetings that the programs raised profound issues and created concern regarding the direction the administration was taking.
SCHIEFFER: So were congressional leaders kept fully informed or were they not?
CHENEY: They were kept fully informed.
SCHIEFFER: Well, why would he have written that letter?
CHENEY: I have no idea. I know when -- what happened was the -- everybody who was in the room that day, for example, when I got the leadership down, the chairman and ranking member of the intelligence committees, including Senator Rockefeller, and asked them if we thought they should continue -- if they thought we should continue the program. They said yes. Do we need to come to Congress to get authorization for it? And they said no.
And he was there. He never objected or posed that in any way.
Later on, when this became public, when the New York Times broke the story, which, frankly, I think was an outrageous decision on their part -- they were asked by the president of the United States not to, on the grounds it would damage national security -- then Senator Rockefeller decided he wanted to hark back to this letter.
But the fact was he couldn't even find it. He had to call my office for a copy of the letter that he allegedly had written, some years before, raising some questions that he had about the program, but...
SCHIEFFER: Well, i mean, do you...
CHENEY: I always felt it was a bit of a CYA letter, that, in those crucial meetings, when we sat down to debate the program and tell them about it, in fact, everybody in the room signed up to it. Nobody objected.
SCHIEFFER: Do you feel you went too far, Mr. Vice President, in -- in your surveillance?
CHENEY: Absolutely not. I think what we did was one of the great success stories of the intelligence business in the last century. I think what the National Security Agency did under General Mike Hayden, working with the CIA, at the direction of the president, was masterfully done. I think it provided crucial intelligence for us.
It's one of the main reasons we've been successful in defending the country against further attacks. And I don't believe we violated anybody's civil liberties.
This was all done in accordance with the president's constitutional authority, under Article II of the Constitution, as commander in chief, with the resolution that was passed by the Congress immediately after 9/11. And subsequently, we have gotten the legislative authority, signed up to last year, when we passed and modify the FISA statute.