Exclusive: The Paradox That Is Scooter Libby

07/01/2011 06:15 pm ET

"Paradox seems to define I. Lewis Libby Jr." So says a New York Times profile of him last night as his federal trial on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice was about to get underway.

Said the Times: "He is the White House policy enforcer who wrote a literary novel; a buttoned-down Washington lawyer who likes knocking back tequila shots in cowboy bars and hurtling down mountains on skis and bikes; and a 56-year old intellectual known to all of us by his childhood nickname, Scooter."

"But now comes the most baffling paradox of all... By all accounts a first-rate legal mind and a hypercautious aide whose discretion frustrated reporters, he is charged with repeatedly lying to a grand jury and the FBI" about seeking out reporters to discuss then-covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame.

If the Times sees a paradox, The Washington Post also similarly perceives an incongruity in Libby's whole ordeal: "People close to Libby point out the incongruity of the whole thing." The Post quoted World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, a former teacher and mentor of Libby's who as deputy secretary of defense was an architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq: "He's always been excruciatingly careful, which is ironic in his situation."

During my own reporting on Libby, one close friend who had served with him in the White House told me: "He's no freelancer. It's incomprehensible that the Scooter we all knew one day turned into some sort of loose cannon."

Others I interviewed described him as deliberative, meticulous, and careful to a fault.

How could it be that Libby--- seemingly such a stickler for the rules-- outed Valerie Plame, as prosecutors claim in their case against him?

There is always, or course, the possibility that Libby will be found innocent of any and all of the charges. He should be entitled, as should any of us, to a presumption of innocence.

Prosecutors have amassed what they believe is a strong body of evidence: Two journalists, Matthew Cooper, formerly of Time, and Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, are going to testify that Libby told them that Plame worked for the CIA and, in Cooper's case, confirmed that she had played a role in sending her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, on his now famous mission to Niger.

Tim Russert, of NBC News, is going to testify that Libby lied to investigators and a federal grand jury in claiming that it was he, Russert, who had told Libby that rumors were circulating among journalists that Plame worked for the CIA--and thus contradicts Libby's assertion that in telling Cooper and Miller of Plame's CIA employment he was only passing on rumors. And finally, prosecutors have the testimony of some five government officials who say that they told Libby that Plame was a CIA officer.

One possibility for Libby's seemingly incongruous behavior--if prosecutors prove their case--is that Libby acted out of character simply because he was so agitated by what he thought was unfair criticism of himself and the vice president for supposedly misrepresenting intelligence to go to war.

But if Libby's grand jury testimony is to be believed, it was Cheney, not Libby, who constantly was the one pushing Libby to leak classified information to the press. Both Cheney and Libby have said that Cheney never ordered him to leak information to the press about Plame. And Libby has claimed that if he did speak to reporters about Plame, he was merely passing along to them rumors that he had heard from Russert and other reporters that Plame was a CIA officer.

But federal investigators from the earliest days of the leak investigation have theorized that Libby was attempting to cover up for Cheney. The loyal staff man was only being loyal. Even in defending Libby, his friend, the political operative, Mary Matalin has described him as "Cheney's Cheney"; "an absolutely salient translator" for the man he adored and was his boss.

Prosecutors are almost certainly in their opening arguments going to cite Cheney's personal copy of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed, in which Wilson charged that despite the fact that he found no evidence during a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger that Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy uranium from the African nation, the White House still exploited the allegations to make the case to go to war.

Cheney scribbled in the margins of the op-ed: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [sic] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"

According to papers filed long ago in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Libby had testified to the federal grand jury that Cheney had ordered him to leak information to the press to discredit Wilson, albeit, although according to Libby, that information was not about Plame.

Two days after Wilson's column appeared, on July 8, 2003, Libby met for a two hour breakfast meeting with Judith Miller at the St. Regis hotel in Washington. During that meeting, Miller has testified and the federal grand jury of Libby has alleged, Libby spoke at some length as to the fact that Plame worked for the CIA. Libby has denied Miller's account, saying the two never discussed Plame that morning.

According to Fitzgerald, Cheney not only knew that his aide was about to meet with Miller, but encouraged him as to what to say at the meeting. Libby's own notes contained an instruction, presumably from Cheney, to "tell information to Ms. Miller on July 8."

But both Libby and Cheney insist that such instruction refer to orders by Cheney that Libby leak portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq's nuclear weapons program that Cheney believed would undercut Wilson's allegations.

According to a court filing by Fitzgerald, Libby, during his testimony before the federal grand jury, portrayed himself as reluctant to disclose any classified information to Miller. The filing asserted that Libby "testified that he at first advised the Vice President that he could not have this conversation with [Judith] Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE." Libby only proceeded when "the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized [Libby] to disclose the portions of the NIE."

Despite Cheney's assurances, Libby told the grand jury he was still apprehensive about leaking the information to Miller. He sought out Cheney's then-legal counsel, David Addington, wanting reassurance that what he was about to do was legal. Libby testified, according to the court filing by Fitzgerald, that Addington "opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."

If the account is true, Libby was indeed the "hypercautious aide" (as described by the Times); "the excruciatingly careful" man (in the words of Paul Wolfowitz); and someone who never acted a "freelancer," (as one former colleague described him to me).

When Libby was asked by Cheney to leak portions of the NIE, loyal aide that he was, he was reluctant to do so. Cheney then came back and said that the President authorized the leak. And still, Libby, was reluctant, seeking out the advice of Cheney's White House counsel David Addington, to ask once more what he was being asked to do was legal.

But during the same meeting with Miller, Libby also told her information about Plame working for the CIA. This was, in fact, additional information following up on an earlier conversation in which Libby had suggested Plame might work for the CIA. In providing this information, however, Cheney and Libby claim that Libby was not acting with the authorization of the Vice President. If true, Libby was no longer the hypercautious aide or someone excruciatingly careful. The dutiful aide who needed assurances from the Vice President, authorization by the President, and a legal opinion by a White House counsel regarding the leak of classified information to the press was now acting recklessly and on his own.

Four days later, on July 12, Libby spoke again to reporters, this time to Times' Cooper and the New York Times' Judith Miller, for the third time, about Plame. Once again, if Libby is to be believed, he was directly ordered by the Vice President to leak classified information about Wilson to the press to discredit him, although not information about Plame. Libby, dutifully, but reluctantly agreed. And once more, despite the fact that Cheney authorized Libby to leak other classified information for them to make their case against Wilson, the Vice President said nothing about Plame--although Plame was the focus of Libby's discussions with Miller and Cooper.

In a recent investigative article and news analysis about the trial for the National Journal, I wrote the following about the events of July 12, 2003:

Late in the morning of July 12, 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney stood atop a pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia awaiting the commissioning of a nuclear-powered Nimitz class aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan. The carrier stood twenty stories high and took eight years to construct. More than 15,000 people stood under clear skies to watch the pomp and ceremony. As she christened the carrier by breaking a bottle of champagne over its bow, Nancy Reagan told the crowd: "I only have one line. Man the ship and bring her alive."

A Washington Post reporter recounted what happened next: "With those time-hallowed words, hundreds of crew members wearing dress whites ran aboard the 20-story Reagan and lined the flight deck while four fighter jets flew overhead and every crane, radar, whistle, and alarm aboard was turned on simultaneously."

Cheney himself later took the podium, and as he spoke, the spirit of the crowd turned somber: "The Ronald Reagan sets sail in a world with new dangers," he said, "The outcome is certain. There will be victory for the United States."

The moment of triumph would prove to be illusory. Americans had no idea that the war in Iraq, then not even four months old, would take a turn for the worse, that more than 3,000 American servicemen would die in the line of duty; that "liberated" Iraq would spiral down into sectarian violence; and that the war would not only divide the Iraqi nation but the American one as well....

On the flight back to Washington, aboard Air Force Two, Cheney, who lent the appearance to his aides of being sullen and preoccupied, wanted to again discuss Wilson. He huddled with Libby and Catherine Martin, the-then assistant to the Vice President for public affairs, to strategize best how to counter and discredit further Wilson's criticisms. My National Journal article continues the tale thus:

Cheney, Libby, and Martin discussed a then-still highly classified CIA document that they believed had information in it that would undercut Wilson's credibility. The document was a March 8, 2002 debriefing of Wilson by the CIA's Directorate of Operations after his trip to Niger. The report did not name Wilson or even describe him as a former U.S. ambassador who had served time in the region, but rather as a "contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record." The report made no mention of the fact that his wife was Valerie Plame, or that she may have played a role in having her husband sent to Niger.

Cheney told Libby that he wanted him to leak the report to the press, according to people with first-hand knowledge of federal grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case, and federal court records.

Cheney believed that this particular CIA debriefing report might undermine Wilson's claims because it showed that Wilson's Niger probe was far more inconclusive on the issues as to whether Saddam attempted to buy uranium from Niger. The report said that Wilson was restricted from interviewing any number of officials in Niger during the mission, and he was denied some intelligence information before undertaking the trip.

Almost immediately after disembarking Air Force Two, once back in Washington, D.C., Libby made three telephone calls to two journalists: Matthew Cooper, then of Time magazine, and Judith Miller, then of The New York Times.

But during both of those conversations, according to the federal grand jury testimony of both Cooper and Miller, Libby said virtually nothing at all, if indeed anything, about Wilson's report back to the CIA.

Rather, Miller and Cooper testified that Libby intensely focused on the fact that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer, and that she had been responsible for sending her husband on his mission to Niger. The discussion between Libby and Cooper was the first that the then-vice presidential chief of staff and the Time correspondent spoke of Plame. It would be the third interview for Miller in which Libby talked about Plame.

Later, prosecutors were apparently incredulous at the notion that although Cheney and Libby talked so frequently about Wilson and Plame; that both men said that Cheney authorized Libby to leak classified information regarding Wilson just prior to those meetings with reporters; and that both Libby and Cheney have claimed that none of that information regarded Plame; and yet when the actual telephone phone calls with the reporters took place, the emphasis was indeed on Plame.

The extraordinary time and energy that Cheney devoted to the issue of discrediting Wilson and his allegations, and the intensity with which both Cheney and Libby took to the task, are perhaps underscored by this exchange between Libby and a prosecutor before the grand jury.

"Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis?" a federal prosecutor asked, speaking of Wilson's op-ed.

"Yes, sir," answered Libby.

"And it was discussed on multiple occasions each day in fact?"

"Yes, sir."

"And during that time did the vice president indicate that he was upset that this article was out there which falsely in his view attacked his own credibility?"

"Yes, sir."

"And do you recall what it is the vice-president said?"

"I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he [Cheney] had or hadn't done--what the facts were or were not. He was very keen on that and said it repeatedly. 'Let's get everything out.'"

When Libby stood atop a pier in Norfolk, watching the commissioning of the U.S.S. Reagan on July 12, he almost certainly couldn't have the slightest clue that events later that exultant day would lead him to repeated trips to the dreary and windowless confines of a room in the federal courthouse where a federal grand jury would demand answers from about who said what to him about a woman named Valerie Plame and what he then said about her to others.

There, Libby, on the instruction of his high priced legal counsel, told his side of the story as impassively as possible to twenty-three similarly expressionless grand jurors. In the end, they did not believe him, and charged him with five felonies.

Other stories and posts by and about Murray Waas;

Murray Waas, "Bush Administration Leaks Bolstered Rick Renzi's Reelection Bid," the Hill, June 24, 2009.

Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory, "Think Again: Blogosphere to Mainstream Press: Get Off the Bus," Center for American Progress, May 21, 2009.

Murray Waas, "A U.S. Attorney's Story," the Atlantic, April 20, 2009.

Damozel, "Rove to Cooperate?... or Not." Buck Naked Politics, Feb. 9, 2009.

Murray Waas, "Feds Probe Domenici for Obstruction of Justice in Iglesias Fight," TPM Muckraker, Feb. 4, 2009.

Murray Waas, "Cheney's Admissions to the CIA Leak Prosecutor and FBI," personal blog, Dec. 23, 2008.

Murray Waas, "McCain Transition Chief Aided in Saddam Lobbying Campaign," Huffington Post, Oct. 14, 2008.

Murray Waas and Justin Rood, "Report: White House Involved in U.S. Attorney Firings,", Sept. 29, 2008.

Murray Waas, "The Case of the Gonzales Notes," the Atlantic, Sept. 26, 2008.

Murray Waas, "What Did Bush Tell Gonzales?" the Atlantic, Sept. 26, 2008.

Glenn Greenwald, "Salon Radio: Murray Waas,", Sept. 26, 2008.

Anna Schecter and Murray Waas, "DOJ Official Fired in Wake of ABC News Investigation,", June 25, 2008.

Murray Waas and Anna Schecter, "Bush White House Pushed Grant for Former Staffer," ABC News, June 24, 2008.

Brian Ross, Anna Shecter, and Murray Waas, "Justice Department Official Awards $500,000 Grant to Golf Group," ABC News, June 9, 2008.

"FDL Book Salon Welcomes Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco," Firedoglake, June10, 2007.

Murray Waas, "Internal Affairs," National Journal, March 15, 2007.

Murray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco, "The United States v. I. Lewis Libby," (Union Square Press), March, 2007.

Murray Waas, "Libby Testimony Raises More Questions About Cheney's Role," National Journal, Feb. 19, 2007.

Murray Waas, "Cheney's Call," National Journal, Feb. 15, 2007.

Scott Shane, "As Trial Begins, Ex-Aide is Still a Puzzle," New York Times, Jan. 17, 2007.

Murray Waas, "CIA Leak Probe: Inside the Grand Jury," National Journal, Jan. 12, 2007.

Jim Boyd, "Editorial Pages: Why Courage is Hard to Find," Nieman Reports, July 2006.

Murray Waas, "Bush Blocked Justice Department Investigation," July 18, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Bush Directed Cheney to Counter War Critic," National Journal, July 6 2006.

Murray Waas, "What Ashcroft Was Told," National Journal, June 8, 2006.

Shane Harris and Murray Waas, "Justice Department Probe Foiled," National Journal, May 25, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Is There a Double Standard on Leak Probes?," National Journal,, May 25 2006.

Murray Waas, "Rove-Novak Call Was Concern to Leak Investigators," National Journal, May 25, 2006.

Liz Halloran, "A Muckraker's Day in the Sun," U.S. News & World Report, May 15 2006.

Murray S. Waas, "Why Rove Testified For a Fifth Time," National Journal, April 28, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Is There a Double Standard on Leak Probes?," National Journal, April 25, 2006.

Howard Kurtz, "Reporters in Glass Houses," Washington Post, April 17, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Cheney Authorized Leak of CIA Report, Libby Says," National Journal, April 16, 2006.

Paul Krugman, "Yes He Would," New York Times, April 10, 2006,

Jay Rosen, "Murray Waas is Our Woodward Now," PressThink, April 9, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Libby Says Bush Authorized Leaks," National Journal, April 6, 2006.

Dan Froomkin, "A Compelling Story," Washington Post, March 31, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Insulating Bush," National Journal, March 30, 2006.

Murray Waas, "What Bush Was Told About Iraq," National Journal, March 2, 2006.

Amy Goodman, "How Cheney Authorized Libby to Leak Classified Information," Democracy Now!, Feb. 10, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Cheney Authorized Libby to Leak Classified Information," National Journal, Feb. 9, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Iraq, Niger, and the CIA," National Journal, Feb. 2, 2006.

Murray Waas, "Why Novak Called Rove," National Journal, Dec. 16, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Jack Anderson: An Appreciation," the Village Voice, Dec. 13, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Libby Testimony is Key to Rove Inquiry," National Journal, Nov. 12, 2005.

Murray Waas, "The Meeting," American Prospect, Nov. 6, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Addington's Role in Cheney's Office Draws Fresh Attention," National Journal, Oct. 30, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Cheney, Libby Blocked Papers to Senate Intelligence Committee," National Journal, Oct. 27, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Secret Service Records Prompted Change in Miller Grand Jury Testimony," National Journal, Oct. 29, 2005.

Jeralyn Merritt, "It's Libby v. Miller Time," TalkLeft, Oct. 18, 2005.

Murray Waas, "CIA Leak Prosecutor Focuses on Libby," National Journal, Oct. 18, 2005.

Amy Goodman, "How Dick Cheney's Top Aide Misled Federal Prosecutors in the CIA Leak Case," Democracy Now!, Oct. 12, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Libby Did Not Tell Grand Jury About Key Information," National Journal, Oct. 11, 2005.

Murray Waas, "CIA Leak Prosecutor Focuses on Libby," National Journal, Oct. 8, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Rove Assured Bush He Was Not Leaker," National Journal, Oct. 7, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Rove Before Grand Jury in the Morning," Whatever Already!, Oct. 6, 2005.

Murray Waas, "House Republicans Beat Back Plame Resolution of Inquiry," Whatever Already!, Sept. 14, 2005.

Murray Waas, "While You Were Watching Katrina," Village Voice, Sept. 13, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Exclusive: House Democrats Ask Justice Inspector General to Investigate Ashcroft Role in Plame Probe," Whatever Already!, August 16, 2005.

Murray Waas, "What Now, Karl?," Village Voice, August 9, 2005.

Murray S. Waas, "Special Handling: How the Huckabee Administration Worked to Free Rapist Wayne Dumond," Arkansas Times, Aug. 1, 2005.

Murray S. Waas, "Front Page Fronts," American Prospect, July 15, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Exclusive: Novak Cooperated with Prosecuctors," Whatever Arlready!, July 12, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Plame Game Redux," the American Prospect, May 22, 2005,

Murray Waas, "Plame Exclusive: Attorney General Refuses to Comply with Congressional Request for Information on the Case," Whatever Already!, April 21, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Plame Game Over?," American Prospect, April 6, 2005.

Murray Waas, "An Unlikely Story," American Prospect, July 19, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Plame Game Redux," American Prospect, April 22, 2005.

Murray Waas, "Curveballs to Congress," American Prospect, July 16 2004.

Murray Waas, "Ashcroft's Interest," American Prospect, July 8, 2004,

Murray Waas, "Pressure on Ashcroft to Recuse Himself Grows," Alternet, Oct. 25, 2003.

Douglas Frantz and Murray Waas, "Iraq Used American-Built Plant to Develop A-Arms," Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1992.

Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, "Saudi Arms Link to Iraq Allowed: Under Reagan and Bush, U.S. Weapons were Secretly Provided to Mideast," Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1992.

Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz, "Despite Ban, U.S. Arms Are Sold to Pakistan," Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1992.

Murray Waas, coeditedMurray Waas and Jeff Lomonaco, "The U.S. v. I. Lewis Libby," Union Square Press, March, 2007." target="_hplink"> with Jeff Lomonaco, in May 2007, "The United States v. I. Lewis Libby" (Union Square Press). Waas can be reached through his Faceook page or at
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