- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday stayed away from the White House for a fourth consecutive day, although he remained in constant contact with President Bush and planned to give his first press interview in 26 days tomorrow.
Aides described Mr. Cheney as wryly amused at intensifying interest in his whereabouts by the media, which previously portrayed him as the administration's indispensable man.
"Don't tell them where I am," he joked, said senior aide Mary Matalin.
Although he has not been seen in public since the United States began bombing Taliban targets on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Cheney will grant an interview tomorrow to Jim Lehrer of PBS. The interview will be taped sometime before the evening newscast, although PBS has not yet been told the location or whether the network will be able to disclose it.
"He does remain in a secure location," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "It's a reflection of the times that we're living in. It's also a reflection of the importance of making certain that all security arrangements are considered."
The extraordinary secrecy remained in place even as Mr. Bush argued yesterday that one of the best ways to fight terrorists was to "rob them of their secrecy." Although the president has urged Americans to reclaim as much normalcy in their lives as possible in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Cheney's secretive existence over the last four days has been anything but normal.
"It's just very odd," said presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. "And of course, they're not hiding the president, who is a bit more valuable in the constitutional system."
Mrs. Matalin downplayed such concerns.
"I don't know why everybody's so crazy with this 'Where's Waldo?' stuff," she said. "Life has changed since September 11th and it would be irresponsible to not be prudent with continuity of government issues."
She said Mr. Cheney continues to participate by teleconference in "war councils," national security meetings and gatherings in the White House situation room.
"They're never anywhere where they don't have comprehensive and interactive connectivity," she said. "Cheney's day starts the same, ends the same. He's exercising with the same regularity, has the same kinds of meetings and is in the same rhythm as everybody else is."
Ironically, Mr. Cheney's indispensability is what makes his continued absence unsettling to some Americans. From the beginning of the Bush administration, he has gained a reputation as one of the most deeply engaged vice presidents in history, with a broad portfolio and unlimited access to the president.
In fact, it was Mr. Cheney who warned the president to stay away from Washington and especially the White House as hijacked jetliners began slamming into buildings on Sept. 11. When Mr. Bush returned home after his hopscotch across the country aboard Air Force One, Mr. Cheney was moved to a secure, undisclosed location for the first time.
Days later, when Mr. Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress about the terrorist strikes, the vice president was conspicuously absent from his perch behind the president, where he normally would sit as president of the Senate.
Mr. Cheney has given no press interviews since a Sept. 16 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." Last week, however, he appeared three times on Capitol Hill and numerous times at the White House, including a Friday event in the Rose Garden.
Since Sunday, he has been kept out of sight at a location that White House aides have refused to disclose.
The administration was so intent on keeping him under wraps that Mr. Cheney had to scrap plans to preside over Monday's swearing-in of Tom Ridge as the new anti-terrorism czar.
Asked what kind of message that sends about the safety of America's leaders, Mr. Fleischer said hiding Mr. Cheney is "for security purposes. And I think that people understand that."

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