Irv Lewis “Scooter” Libby – White House adviser, mystery novelist, and neoconservative guiding light – has been one of the most important men pulling the levers behind the Bush administration.
Libby, who has held more titles in the Bush White House than can fit on a business card, served most prominently (until his resignation today) as vice presidential chief of staff. From the very beginning of the administration, Libby has essentially been Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney – an odd combination of H.R. Haldeman and Harry Hopkins, seemingly managing every detail of the vice president’s professional life.
Libby was indicted today on five counts of criminal charges by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the investigation into the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby now stands accused of being one of the white-collar criminals that he once represented as a high-powered defense attorney in the 1980s.
What few have realized at this historic moment is that for the past four-and-a-half years, Libby has been “scooting” from scandal to scandal. Libby has been at center stage for the other major national security scandals of the Bush administration, including the Iraq intelligence debacle, the secret meetings about Halliburton contracts, and doubtless others we have not heard of yet.
It was Libby – along with Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and a handful of other top aides at the Pentagon and White House – who convinced the president that the U.S. should go to war in Iraq. It was Libby who pushed Cheney to publicly argue that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and 9/11.
It was also Libby who prodded former Secretary of State Colin Powell to include specious reports about an alleged meeting between 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official in Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations. Libby and his staff reportedly badgered Powell’s speechwriters for weeks, culminating in a meeting where Libby presented information in a manner that, according to those who were there, was aggressive and over the top.
The so-called evidence unraveled when intelligence analysts examined it later. As one official told the Washington Post, “After one day of hearing screams about who put this together . . . we essentially threw it out.” Undeterred, Libby continued to try to press his agenda – going so far as calling Powell’s staff the night before the secretary was scheduled to give his speech to demand that they include new information.
Within “The Vulcans” – the name that Bush’s core national security team (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, et al.) gave themselves – Libby has been a junior member and an ideological soulmate. Still known to friends and colleagues as “Scooter” (his father watched him crawling across his crib as a baby one day and exclaimed, “he’s a scooter!”), Libby first came into contact with this group as an undergraduate at Yale when he took a political science class from Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense who now heads the World Bank.
From Yale, Libby went on to Columbia Law School and then settled down to practice law in Philadelphia. His most famous client was Marc Rich, the fugitive financier and alleged tax evader who was pardoned by President Clinton during the last days of his administration. Clinton’s pardon, which at the time drew heavy criticism from Republicans, was largely the result of legal arguments Libby had been making for 15 years.
Libby’s Washington career began when Wolfowitz called his former student and asked him to give up his law practice to go to work in the Reagan administration. Libby immediately jumped at the opportunity and went to work in the State Department. Later, under the first George Bush, he moved to the Defense Department.
It was there that he wrote a sweeping new Defense Planning Guidance document that attempted to reorient U.S. global military policy. The paper – highly praised by neocons at the time – called for the United States to build up its military capabilities to the point where no other country could ever rival them. Cheney, who was then secretary of defense, liked the document so much that he ordered parts of the usually secret plan declassified and made them public= This Planning Guidance document went a long way toward endearing Libby to Cheney.
Within the Bush administration, what has touched Cheney has also reached Libby and vice versa. Libby’s role in the awarding of at least one no-bid, multi-million dollar contract to Halliburton is a case in point.
For months, the vice president’s office denied that it played any role in the selection of the company once headed by Cheney to repair Iraq’s oil fields. But, as the Washington Post reported last year, it turns out that Libby had been briefed by Pentagon officials before the contract was awarded – raising questions of impropriety at best, and corruption at worst. The man best able to answer the questions about what went on, according to the Post, is none other than Libby.
Given the depth of his influence in shaping the White House agenda over the past four-and-a-half years, losing Libby today is not only a huge blow to the vice president, but to the entire Bush administration.