Who Is Scooter Libby?
The secretive Cheney aide at the heart of the CIA leak case.
It's surprising, in any case, to find Libby is at the center of a press scandal. The daily communications operation is not something he cares much about. Rove, by contrast, spends a portion of every day running his own press operation. He sends BlackBerry messages, forwards polling data, and argues his case to influential journalists. Libby flies at a higher altitude, talking mostly to marquee columnists and preferring longer and more in-depth conversations to the rat-a-tat-tat required by reporters on deadline.
Libby does enjoy the intellectual cat-and-mouse game of longer form interviews, those who have worked with him say. He challenges basic assumptions and presses on a reporter's sloppy definitions. In my experience interviewing him, if a line of reasoning was in any way harmful to the administration or the vice president, it was sometimes impossible to get past the gorilla dust. His shimmy and shake sometimes got so bad, I wondered if he would even admit to working for the vice president. "It's very lawyerly kind of amusement," says a former aide.
When the Cheneys hosted a party in February 2002 for the paperback publication of Libby's book, the guest list was not filled with workaday journalists, but with the elite from New York and Washington: Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, Leon Wieseltier and Maureen Dowd. In those early days after 9/11, it seemed like the relationship between the press and the media elite might turn out to be a fairly cozy one. The Bushies hated "old Washington," but as Libby and the vice president spoke from the landing at the bottom of the stairs, it seemed as if their half of the administration understood the quiet commerce between the ruling elite and the more permanent Washington establishment. Maureen Dowd, who was invited to that party, ended that fantasy.
Libby is fussy and precise with reporters, which is why friends and colleagues find it so hard to believe that he would have been involved in leaking Plame's identity, obstructing justice, or committing perjury. Libby was an exacting source for anyone who talked to him. After using a Libby quote, it was not unusual for reporters to receive a call from the vice president's press shop. Mr. Libby wanted to know why only a portion of his comment was used. "He would prefer that if a reporter was going to quote him that it be an unedited transcript," says one who worked closely with him. Other reporters were scolded if a Libby quote hidden under the attribution of "senior administration official" was placed near sentences that he thought might identify him, even if no reasonable reader could come to such a conclusion. In other words, he's as careful as they come in Washington.
Those who know him say that if you're going to be stuck in an undisclosed location with somebody, Scooter Libby isn't a bad choice. He can do tequila shots on the saddle-shaped seats of the Wyoming bar near the vice president's vacation house and deconstruct poetry afterward. He is also athletic. He skis, plays in a regular touch football game, and rode a mountain bike so hard one time at an AEI retreat, he fell and broke his collar bone. Once, at one of the undisclosed locations, he helped the Cheney grandchildren play pretend-Halloween, answering the door to the tricksters and handing out candy as if they were in their own neighborhood.
A man who likes to stay out of the limelight knows something about disguises. But I. Lewis Libby appears to be on the verge of losing the option of a low profile for good. If Fitzgerald announces his indictment, "Irving" will soon become a household name.
John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his series on the presidency and his series on risk. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of I. Lewis Libby by Harry Hamburg/KRT; photograph of Libby on the Slate home page by Gamma Presse.