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By CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham
By his count, former Vice President Dick Cheney has cheated death at least three times – if you start after the fifth heart attack.
In December of 2009, the year after he left the White House, Cheney went into sudden cardiac arrest – which is normally fatal – while backing his car out of a garage. Cheney had an implanted defibrillator at the time, which kicked him back to life in 16 seconds.
In July 2010, he was in end-stage heart failure, his liver and kidneys shutting down. His heart was not providing enough blood for the rest of his body to survive.
He underwent a nine-hour surgery where doctors installed a left ventricle assist device (LVAD), a pump that attached to his heart and supplemented the blood flow throughout the rest of his body.
During that procedure, Cheney writes about what he experienced in his new book “Heart: An American Medical Odyssey.”
“When I came to, they asked me what I remembered. And what I remembered was I had spent most of my time in Italy, north of Rome, about 40 or 50 miles north of Rome, a nice little village, drinking good Italian wine and eating good Italian food. That's what I had in my head,” Cheney said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."
Cheney’s family wanted to know if they were with him, and he said no.
“What I was struck by was the abyss between their experience and what they perceived during that period of time, and what I remembered about that experience. And it wasn't at all unpleasant. It wasn't at all frightening,” said Cheney.
The former Vice President said he didn’t believe it was heaven, but it was “a spiritual experience” for him and the medical team.
That procedure bought Cheney the 20 months he needed to receive his heart transplant.
“I think of it as my new heart. I have enormous regard, and always try to go out of my way to thank the donor and the donor's family. I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for that gift,” said Cheney.
Cheney on the latest NSA disclosures that the U.S. is spying on allies
The Obama administration is under fire anew about alleged National Security Agency snooping – this time of global leaders, including staunch European allies.
Documents reportedly leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have exposed this reach beyond U.S. call and e-mail traffic, and some of it has been going on for more than a decade.
Watch Cheney on NSA spying on allies here, or by clicking the video below
Cheney suggests there is an interest in conducting surveillance on a country or a leader, even a clear ally.
"We do have a fantastic intelligence capability, worldwide against all kinds of potential issues and concerns. We are vulnerable, as was shown on 9/11, and you never know what you're going to need when you need it," said Cheney.
"We do collect a lot of intelligence. Without speaking about any particular target or group of targets, that intelligence capability is enormously important to the United States, to our conduct in foreign policy, to defense matters, economic matters, and I'm a strong supporter of it," said Cheney.
Cheney also calls Snowden a traitor, and believes his leaks to global media outlets since June have hurt America's ability to defend itself.
"Some people want to say he's a whistle blower, he's no whistle blower. He's done enormous damage to the United States by talking about sources, and methods, and the way we collect intelligence, and that's a violation of the law," said Cheney.
Snowden, who is living in Russia under asylum, had access to classified information and violated the conditions under which he got it, said Cheney.
"I hope we can catch him at some point, and that he receives the justice he deserves," he said.
Cheney on torture
Revelations like the recent NSA disclosures raise the notion of government overreach – whether through programs involving massive data mining or surveillance of allies, or – in Cheney’s case – black sites and enhanced interrogation techniques that others believe to be torture.
He spoke specifically about the terrorist surveillance program set up after 9/11 and the enhanced interrogation techniques used on the mastermind of that attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
“In both those cases, we went to great lengths to make certain we'd worked closely with the lawyers and the Justice Department to know where the line was - you can go this far and no further - so that we didn't violate any international commitments or obligations,” Cheney said.
“When people say torture, that may be their opinion, but with respect to the attorneys and the lawyers that are charged with reviewing what we do, it was not torture. I don't believe it was torture,” he added.
But some dispute the notion that enhanced interrogation, or torture, led to Mohammed giving up information. Even positing that it did, his treatment had tremendous propaganda value for al Qaeda.
“There are bound to be critics out there. There's no question but what it was controversial. It was the right thing to do,” said Cheney.
“If you've got one guy who is at the heart of the al Qaeda organization who has access to information about what their plans are, where they operate, who funds them, finances them, you need to do whatever is necessary in order to collect the intelligence,” said Cheney.
Cheney on daughter Liz Cheney’s run for office
Cheney is bullish about his daughter’s run for office, saying Liz Cheney represents the future of the Republican Party. Liz is challenging incumbent Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi.
“The Republican Party is in trouble. You know, we've lost the last two presidential elections. And we badly need, I think, to bring along a new generation of talent, new leaders, recruit new folks into the party,” said Cheney.
“Liz does exactly that - a mom with five kids, a university degree from the University of Chicago, two tours in the State Department. Bright, capable, talented,” said Cheney.
Watch Cheney: Liz is the new generation of GOP here, or by clicking the video below
Besides, he said, Enzi has served his time.
“He's had three terms in the U.S. Senate. In the 100-year history since we've been electing Senators directly, in this country, there's only been one time when the Wyoming Senator had more than three terms. It's always sort of been the norm, the limit,” said Cheney. “Mike told a lot of people he wasn't going to run, and then he decided he was going to run.”
Liz Cheney came out against same-sex marriage, despite having a sister, Mary Cheney, who married her long-time partner last year. Their father has publicly supported same-sex marriage for years.
“My position on that issue is well known, I enunciated it in 2000 in a debate with Joe Lieberman. It hasn't changed. And I'll let my daughters speak for themselves,” said Cheney.
Cheney on deficits and the Bush-Cheney record
Cheney has expressed sympathy for tea party Republicans and their concerns about the astronomical national debt and the deficits.
But in the past, Cheney told former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that “(Ronald) Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”
Cheney said at the time he made that comment about the former President, the administration was running surpluses, and they were trying to determine whether they could – like Reagan – run a deficit in order to build up military capability.
“I'm not opposed, under certain circumstances, to running deficits,” said Cheney.
“The debt is another problem. And we've gotten to the point now, where especially because of entitlement programs, but because there really hasn't been much done by way of trying to restrain spending, when we have, you know, trillion-dollar deficits every year,” said Cheney.
But many economists look at the data and say a lot of the reasons for the debt – in addition to entitlement programs – are things that came under George W. Bush and Cheney, such as funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and tax cuts.
“In terms of what we had to spend with respect to the aftermath of 9/11, setting up security systems, TSA, Homeland Security and so forth, we thought that was a necessary and legitimate expense,” said Cheney. “We did it because we believed it was important to do and, still do.”
The prescription drug benefit was “something the President campaigned on before I ever got involved. I think it was a good program,” said Cheney.
But how were the programs paid for?
Cheney said in 2005, he and Bush spent a year trying to start a debate on Social Security, to pass a package similar to one in 1986 that would “buy us several years with Social Security.”
“We were totally unsuccessful,” said Cheney.
“We ran into an absolute stone wall when we tried to get changes to Social Security that would, in fact, help with that long-term entitlement problem,” said Cheney.
As for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – they “were paid for,” said Cheney. “The funds were appropriated.”