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Lewis Libby’s Background

A reporter for the Washington Post and a staff writer for the New Yorker take a closer look at Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and his role in the CIA leak case.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So who is Lewis "Scooter" Libby? We'll get some answers from two journalists who have recently written about Libby and his role in the administration and in the Iraq war. Mark Leibovich is a reporter for the Washington Post and author of a recent profile of Libby. And George Packer is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of the new book "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq." George Packer, does that title "vice presidential chief of staff" adequately get at Lewis Libby's stature within the vice president's office and in the White House as a whole?

  • GEORGE PACKER:

    It doesn't. He is his chief of staff, and probably the most powerful vice presidential chief of staff in history; he's also his national security adviser.

    But Libby is a protégé not of Cheney but Paul Wolfowitz. And they go back to 1972 when Wolfowitz taught at Yale and Libby was a student of his. Wolfowitz brought Libby to Washington in '81 to work in the Reagan State Department, and then brought him again into government in '89 when Wolfowitz became the number three at the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Libby became his deputy. And Wolfowitz and Libby work very closely together, among other things, developing an Iraq war plan after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that eerily resembled Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. It called for a move into Iraq, deep into Iraq, by a light force. That was eventually scrapped, but it gave you an idea of the kind of thinking that Wolfowitz and Libby shared.

    And then once again in 1992, Cheney deputized Wolfowitz and Libby to oversee the drafting of what came to be called the Defense Planning Guidance, which was a broad look at post-Cold War American defense and military policy, which, again, foreshadowed the Bush doctrine of preempting threats and creating such American military power that there would be no rivals, that we would deter all rivals.

    So, in a way, to understand how Libby got to where he is today, you have to look at the history of Paul Wolfowitz.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Mark Leibovich, Vice President Cheney is often described as one of the most powerful and influential vice presidents in history. Did Vice President Cheney's clout enhance Lewis Libby's?

  • MARK LEIBOVICH:

    Oh, absolutely. I don't think you become the most powerful vice presidential aide perhaps in history if you don't have the most – perhaps most powerful vice president in history to answer to.

    I mean, he also has a third title in addition to chief of staff and national security adviser to Cheney, which is assistant to the president, and Scooter Libby, unlike really any vice presidential deputy in recent memory, is treated very much like a principal within the White House, which means that he goes to very high-level meetings, whether it's on the economy and even more commonly on national security.

    So certainly, I mean, their fortunes are very intertwined, and Libby is a very, very dominant figure, not just in Vice President Cheney's office, but in the White House at large.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Mark, take us back to 2002 and 2003, when Amb. Joe Wilson made his trip to Africa, when the administration was making its case for war. What was Scooter Libby doing?

  • MARK LEIBOVICH:

    Well, he was clearly part of the administration that was making the case for war. I mean, he was certainly a hawk within the administration. I mean, he and Wolfowitz who, as George has said, they go back many, many decades, were true believers, and Scooter Libby has had Saddam Hussein on his radar for a many decades. His portfolio during the first Gulf War at the Pentagon included germ warfare and the biochemical –or the biological capabilities of Saddam Hussein.

    And that really crystallized a lot of interest for him for many, many years. And he's also, like Cheney, been someone who has been very, very interested in terrorism for many, many years, certainly preceding Sept. 11, and the two of them really do share a world view, which is that there is evil in the world, and it must be dealt with swiftly and they're both students of history and they've met with the same historians and talked to the same historians, and certainly Libby was a very fierce advocate of the president's case for going to war in 2002 — in 2003.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, George Packer did, Lewis Libby have specific tasks during that time that he performed, either in a way that could be seen by the public or was instrumental behind the scenes?

  • GEORGE PACKER:

    I think precisely he was not seen by the public. He was the soul of discretion, sort of the ultimate behind-the-scenes official. He was Cheney's Cheney. He was crucially placed to receive intelligence and policy ideas from his colleagues and neoconservative allies at the Pentagon, starting with Paul Wolfowitz, Douglass Feif and those who worked under them in the policy office.

    And I think that is a role that the public doesn't really know very much about, and it also involves some of the post-war planning, most of which — the blame for which has been laid at the feet of the Pentagon, not the vice president's office, but perhaps as this case unfolds, we're going to have the veil lifted on the vice president's office and we'll find out exactly what role that office played in some of the mistakes that were made as we went to war in Iraq.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well Mark, you just heard George Packer call this person Cheney's Cheney, and talk about him as a behind-the-scenes person. Today in the indictment a lot of phone calls with reporters were spelled out in exhaustive detail. What was this behind-the-scenes guy doing burning up the phone lines during 2003?

  • MARK LEIBOVICH:

    Well, being behind the scenes certainly doesn't preclude having deep background, you know, conversations with a lot of reporters. I mean, you know, being behind the scenes is also not synonymous with being a shrinking violet.

    I mean, he is – Libby has been extremely aggressive in courting the press – I mean, a lot of members of the press know him fairly well. He's always very polite, very, very solicitous. He often returns calls. But, again, it's always on deep background, and I don't think he in his wildest imagination believed that such a detailed cataloguing of his conversations with reporters would come to light as it has.

    So, you know, Vice President Cheney, you know, despite his behind-the-scenes career, at least perceived to be a sort of — a loyal behind-the-scenes player — has courted the press also. So that's certainly part ever his job.

    And, you know, just as Vice President Cheney doesn't have a specific area in the White House, he's been given the freedom and the power by the president to kind of freelance and look around at whatever interests him, in whatever the president has assigned him to, and Libby is the same way.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, let's talk a little bit more specifically about the mentioning of Ambassador Wilson and his connection to Valerie Wilson. Would that have been also something that falls into his portfolio, damage control, or, you know, payback?

  • MARK LEIBOVICH:

    Well, you know, I certainly can't speak to his motives, but, obviously, you know, they're arguing against dissent for the invasion was a big part of what they were concerned about on a day-to-day basis. Whether Joe Wilson was an actual threat — was an actual influencer of public opinion or whether he wasn't is, you know, anybody's analysis.

    But, clearly, I mean, if you look at the records, and if you look at people who have spoken to Libby, and clearly Joe Wilson is someone he was preoccupied with, and I think it was part of a larger — for lack of a better term, marking effort, to sell the administration's point of view, which happened to fly in the face of some of the things that Joe Wilson was saying and writing, also.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    George Packer, today the vice president — yeah, go ahead.

  • GEORGE PACKER:

    Libby was part of something called the "White House Iraq group" which was set up in the summer of 2002 to prepare the public for the coming war in Iraq. It was a — very much a public relations effort to make the case for war. Libby was a core member of that group, so that definitely fell within his portfolio in the vice president's office.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is this, George Packer, a big loss for the vice president?

  • GEORGE PACKER:

    I think it has to be considered a tremendous loss. Libby has been at his side in all the key decisions since Sept. 11. He was at those meetings in Camp David when the response to 9/11 was debated. He and Paul Wolfowitz were the first to argue for an attack on Iraq after Sept. 11. He had a lot invested, therefore in the Iraq war. Cheney had a lot invested in him and I think his departure has to be a great blow to the vice president.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    George Packer, Mark Leibovich, thank you both. Jim.

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