Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2005, pages 10-11

Neocon Corner

“Scooter” Libby Emerges From the Shadows—However Unwillingly

By Richard H. Curtiss

scooter libbyI. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is driven to work from his home in McLean, VA, Oct. 28. Later that day Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald announced five federal counts against him (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst).

THE DECISION by a federal grand jury to indict I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Vice President Richard Cheney’s chief of staff, and not to indict—at least not initially—either Karl Rove, who has been nicknamed President George W. Bush’s brain, or the vice president himself, has put an end to the furious Washington guessing game—for the time being, at least. Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago now will set out to prove the charges against Libby: two counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury (in his grand jury testimony), and one count of obstruction of justice.

This writer’s articles in the “Neocon Corner,” series, which began more than two year ago, suddenly caught the attention of mainstream U.S. journalists, since included in the series was the first penetrating examination of Libby (see September 2004 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 18). That turned out to be one of the most difficult articles this writer has ever written, because the paucity of public information on Libby was astonishing.

In writing it, there were four items I was unable to pin down: anything about his wife, whom we now know is Harriet Grant; that they have two children; what his first initial, “I,” stands for (in databases it is listed as “Irv,” “Irve,” or “Irving”); and how he got the nickname “Scooter.” Libby’s father, an investment banker, recalled his high energy level as a baby and the way he scooted around in his crib. The name stuck.

As last year’s story reported, I. Lewis Libby was born in Connecticut in 1950 and raised in Florida. He attended Andover, earned his BA from Yale University and his JD from Columbia University.

After graduating from law school, Libby went to work as a lawyer in Philadelphia. He then accepted a job offer from his former Yale political science professor, Paul Wolfowitz, for whom he worked at the State Department from 1981 to 1985. After a change in administrations Libby was free to research an historical novel he called The Apprentice, based on historical events in Japan in 1903, which he then published.

In 1992, while working with then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Libby co-wrote with Wolfowitz a policy guidance memorandum aimed at formulating a post-Cold War defense posture. Upset by President George H.W. Bush’s decision to leave Saddam Hussain’s regime in place after the 1991 Gulf war, Libby and Wolfowitz suggested the use of pre-emptive force to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. The document also seems to have served as a template for the founding statement of principles of the Project for a New American Century, founded in 1997, which was signed by a who’s who list of hawks and neocons who now serve in the current administration, including Cheney, Libby, Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Jeb Bush, Steve Forbes and others.

For 18 years, Libby served as the personal attorney for the infamous Marc Rich, who jumped bail and fled to Switzerland in 1985 to avoid prosecution on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading.

Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, had been a major contributor to Democratic campaigns and to the Clinton presidential library. Her close friend, Mary Beth Dozoretz, pledged to raise $1 million for the Clinton library. In his last hours as president, President Bill Clinton pardoned 140 people, including Rich. Among those who spoke up for Rich was former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Libby was a red hot suspect as the man who leaked the name of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame—a federal offense. Plame allegedly arranged for the CIA to send her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C.Wilson IV, to Niger, where he once served, to check out the story that Iraq had purchased “yellow cake” nuclear ore from the African country. After traveling to Niger to investigate, Wilson reported back that the story was completely untrue.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush mentioned the bogus uranium plot as if it were true. Although the document on which it was based seemed to be an out-and-out forgery, the story refused to die. It appeared in the U.S. press and was knocked down again. Its subsequent appearance in the British media was used to raise the charge again. And it also found itself in a bill of particulars assembled for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who prudently threw it out before his appearance in front of the United Nations prior to the invasion of Iraq. It reappeared yet again and was picked up by Cheney, who for some time had manufactured his own “evidence” for war on Iraq.

In what seems to be a case of petty revenge against Wilson for his determined debunking of the story, “someone” decided to expose Plame, who thus lost her cover as a CIA operative specializing in weapons of mass destruction.

What now remains to be seen is how Libby managed to give currency to the story in order to discredit Wilson and ruin his wife’s career. It appears to be an extraordinarily petty plot that, of course, rendered Plame useless after years of maintaining a false identity as part of her work as an undercover operative, and threatened her contacts made over 20 years in the U.S. and abroad.

The crux of the current story is that Libby set out to create a consensus among journalists that Plame’s cover had been blown. Regarding a discussion he had with NBC’s Tim Russert in which Plame’s name did not even come up, Libby testified that Russert had told him Plame’s identity was common knowledge among journalists. Meanwhile Judith Miller of The New York Times discussed the topic with Libby at least four times, and Matthew Cooper of Time also discussed the matter with Libby.

However, it was syndicated columnist Robert Novak who published the story on July 14, 2003,for reasons he has never publicly explained.

Clearly the charges against Libby are serious—even if they don’t concern the leak itself—and damage has been done against Valerie Plame Wilson. If convicted on all counts, Libby could face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

Although apparently not directly involved, President Bush has a long way to go to recoup the political capital he has lost in the last few months. Regarding Libby’s boss, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), a bitter Bush opponent, has written: “Obviously, the involvement of the vice president raises profoundly disturbing questions....We need to understand what role Mr. Cheney played in this despicable incident.”

Fasten your seatbelts. 

Richard H. Curtiss is executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.