David Addington, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, has started a testy duel with Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.
Addington, appearing cocky and not in the least intimidated by the congressional inquisitors, denied that he played a key role in drafting an Aug. 2002 memo on interrogation techniques that could be used on detainees, including suspected al Qaeda terrorists.
Addington said he was present at a meeting when John Yoo, a controversial former Justice Dept. official, told him and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales that Yoo would be conducting a broad review of the president's authority to allow use of such severe techniques.
Addington refused to answer when asked by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) about whether a president could authorize torture.
"I'm not rendering legal advice to the committee," Addington said. "You have lawyers who can render you legal advice."
Addington said, however, that as a "general proposition," no president could authorize any actions expressly violating federal law.
Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) was clearly irritated with Addington and Yoo's refusal to answer direct questions.
"What is the answer?" Conyers yelled at Yoo when Yoo refused to answer a direct question. Conyers and Addington then got into a spat over whether Addington supports the "unitary executive" theory. They bickered over who meant what by saying "unitary."
Addington then denied taking part in a high-level meeting of Bush administeation officials in 2002 to review interrogation techniques.