WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at President Obama on Sunday, saying the Justice Department's decision to investigate whether CIA operatives broke the law while interrogating terrorism suspects was politically motivated and dangerous to national security.
"I just think it's an outrageous political act that will do great damage long-term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say," Cheney said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
He refused to say whether he would cooperate with the Justice Department's inquiry. "It will depend on the circumstances and what I think their activities are really involved in," Cheney said.
Fox's formal interview, conducted last week at Cheney's Wyoming ranch, was his first since Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced last Monday that he was conducting a preliminary review into the actions of certain CIA interrogators who might have exceeded the techniques approved by the Bush administration's Justice Department.
Obama administration officials said they would have no comment.
Senators appearing on the Sunday talk shows also weighed in.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Holder's inquiry is necessary and justified. "No one is above the law. And this is not a political process. This is a legal process . . . to find out whether the law was broken," she said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed misgivings. She said she understood Holder's reasons for launching the probe, but "the timing of this is not very good" because the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, is investigating CIA interrogation and detention techniques.
"Candidly, I wish that the attorney general had waited," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
In his Fox interview, Cheney also said, as he has before, that the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" saved American lives and prevented terrorist attacks. The techniques included waterboarding, which simulates drowning. It was used repeatedly on three top Al Qaeda leaders, including 183 times on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the avowed ringleader of 9/11.
Cheney said the Obama administration's second-guessing of the Bush administration "offends the hell out of me, frankly."
"The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, 'How did you do it?' " Cheney said. "Instead, they're out there now threatening to disbar the lawyers who gave us the legal opinions."
Cheney's comments appeared to be the first Bush administration confirmation that a classified Justice Department report will recommend that two former department lawyers be disbarred for their roles in approving the interrogation techniques.
Both attorneys have left the Justice Department: Jay S. Bybee is now a federal judge, and John C. Yoo is a professor at UC Berkeley.
Cheney said Obama should have stopped Holder from ordering the review because the president had promised not to investigate CIA personnel.
The Obama administration official said the president had never pledged to absolve all CIA officers of any potential wrongdoing -- just those who followed the law.
"Nothing has changed," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue. Also, the official said, career prosecutors in the Bush administration's Justice Department were the first to recommend that some attorneys be disbarred for their roles in the coercive techniques.
Cheney said he did not believe that certain interrogators working for the CIA should face criminal charges even for excessive use of waterboarding, or for having threatened some detainees with mock executions, a gun and an electric drill.
Those incidents were disclosed in a 2004 CIA inspector general's report that was partly declassified last week, prompting some critics to say that the actions clearly violated U.S. law.
Those issues were reviewed by prosecutors in the Bush administration's Justice Department, who decided that no charges should be filed, Cheney said.
"So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it?" Fox moderator Chris Wallace asked.
"I am," Cheney responded.
A senior Justice Department official responded, also on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment: "It is remarkable that someone who has read the full classified CIA [inspector general's] report would say that everything in that report was OK."
Cheney confirmed that he and President Bush had significant disagreements on important matters -- including whether to bomb Iran to stop its nuclear program.
But, he said, recent news reports were "wrong" that he believed Bush "went soft" in his second term.
He said his upcoming memoir "lays out my view of what we did," including where he and Bush disagreed.
"It is going to be a great book," Cheney said.
Their willingness to criticize Obama also divides the pair.
After Bush left office, he said he wouldn't be criticizing his successor.
"There are plenty of critics in the arena," Bush said. "He deserves my silence."
He has held to it while Cheney has defended the Bush administration's legacy.