David Addington

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David Addington is an American attorney, closely associated with Dick Cheney, who is a strong advocate of the unitary executive theory, especially during the George W. Bush Administration. Even his detractors, and there are many, agree he is a brilliant lawyer, convinced that he is acting in the spirit of the Constitution, a copy of which he carries in his pocket. [1]

Early life

He comes from a military family; his father, Jerry, an electrical engineer in the Army, was assigned to a variety of posts, including Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C., where he worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jerry Addington, a 1940 graduate of West Point who won a Bronze Star during the Second World War, also served in Korea and at the North American Air Defense Command, in Colorado; he reached the rank of brigadier general before he retired in 1970.

David attended the United States Naval Academy for a year after high school, but dropped out due to lack of intellectual challenge. [2]

Central Intelligence Agency

After graduation from law school, he became Assistant General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (1981-1984). At the CIA, his emphasis was on limiting Congressional authority. Frederick Hitz, another CIA lawyer who became Inspector General, said “He was a rookie, plenty bright... Addington was very pro-agency. He was trying to figure out how to comply with government oversight without getting hog-tied.”

House of Representatives

His mentor in the House of Representatives, 1983, Steve Berry hired Addington to work with him as the legislative counsel to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. According to Berry, Addington viewed Congressional open hearings on CIA covert activities as “an absolute disaster,” He said, “I know him well, and I know that if there’s a threat he will do everything in his power, within the law, to protect the United States.Berry recalled. “We both felt that Congress did great harm by flinging open the doors to operational secrets.” He served on this committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee between 1984 and 1987.

Jane Harman, a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, thinks that Cheney and Addington are still fighting Watergate. “They’re focussed on restoring the Nixon Presidency,” she said. “They’ve persuaded themselves that, following Nixon, things went all wrong.” She said that in meetings Addington is always courtly and pleasant. But when it comes to accommodating Congress “his answer is always no.”[2]

During this time, he first worked with Cheney. [3] The Minority Report on Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was signed by Dick Cheney as ranking minority member; the primary drafter was Michael Malbin and David Addington contributed to it. [4]

White House

He developed a knowledge of intelligence matched by few other government attorneys, and moved to the White House as Deputy Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and Special Assistant to Reagan (1987).

Defense Department

He was Special Assistant to Defense Secretary Cheney (1989-1992) under the George H. W. Bush Administration. Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been chief of staff to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, said he was focused on putting more and more authority into Cheney's office. "Addington was a nut. That was how everybody summed it up. A brilliant nut, perhaps, but a nut nonetheless."[5]

When nominated, in 1992, for General Counsel, he required Senate confirmation; it was the only time in his career, after he started working for Cheney, when he had to justify his actions to anyone else. While he eventually was confirmed and served until the end of the Administration, the confirmation was stormy. Sen. Carl Levin demanded to know "How many ways are there of evading the will of Congress? How many legal theories do you have?" Addington denied he had any.[6]

Private Sector

Practiced law at various law firms (1993-2001) and headed a political action committee to test potential presidential run by Dick Cheney during 2000 campaign.

George W. Bush Administration

Jack Goldsmith, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), described an immensely powerful yet secret group of Administrative lawyers, which approached legal strategy for the War on Terror policy, often before the National Security Council, U.S. State Department, or U.S. Department of Defense had examined the policy and legal aspects. It consisted of:

In White House matters, the U.S. Department of Justice was represented only through Yoo, whose close working relationship to Addington and Gonzales offended Yoo's second-level manager, John Ashcroft, the incumbent U.S. Attorney General. Gonzales distrusted Ashcroft, whom he believed pushed a social conservative agenda to the political detriment of the President. Ashcroft blocked Yoo's appointment to run OLC.

Haynes suggested Goldsmith for OLC. In their first meeting, Goldsmith was impressed with Addington's grasp of Goldsmith's thinking about internationalization, citing an appellate court ruling that had cited Goldsmith's Harvard Law Review article. They did not discuss, however, Goldsmith's opinion that "the administration should embrace rather than resist judicial review of its wartime legal policy decisions...[Goldsmith] could not understand why the administration failed to work with a Congress controlled by its own party to put all its antiterrorism policy on a sounder legal footing. [7] Goldsmith was confirmed by the Senate in July 2003.

Soon after taking office, Goldsmith determined that certain protections of the Geneva Conventions applied in the Iraq War, which Addington furiously said could not change the February 2002 presidential decision that "...terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections.[8] You cannot question his decision." [9] This decision was the root of the Administration's extrajudicial detention and intelligence interrogation policies. Addington was counsel and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and, after Scooter Libby left office, became Cheney's chief of staff. [2]


  • Georgetown University: B.S., Foreign Service (1978), summa cum laude
  • Duke University School of Law: J.D. (1981) with honors


  1. Chitra Ragavan (21 May 2006), "Cheney's Guy: He's barely known outside Washington's corridors of power, but David Addington is the most powerful man you've never heard of", U.S. News and World Report
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Jane Mayer (3 July 2006), "The Hidden Power: The legal mind behind the White House’s war on terror.", New Yorker
  3. Charlie Savage, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, Little, Brown, ISBN 9789316118040, pp. 54-55
  4. Paul Starobin, Reply by Joan Didion (November 2, 2006), "In Cheney's Shadow", New York Review of Books 53 (17)
  5. Savage, Takeover, p. 63
  6. Senate Armed Services Committee, Nominations of David S. Addington to be General Counsel of the Department of Defense..., 1 July 1992, quoted by Savage, p. 63
  7. Jack Goldsmith (2007), The Terror Presidency, W.W. Norton, pp. 27-29
  8. George W. Bush (July 20, 2007), Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Order 13440
  9. Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency, pp. 41