YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Powerful Insider Lands in 'Noose'

Libby was known for his clout, and discretion. His legal predicament stuns many friends.

October 29, 2005|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby began most of his workdays with a predawn, chauffeured ride from his home in suburban Virginia to Vice President Dick Cheney's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory. From there, the two would ride together to the White House.

It was an arrangement that symbolized Libby's influence. He was the closest advisor to the most powerful vice president in modern times. So close that his boss wanted him on hand before entering the West Wing.

On Friday, Libby exited the White House grounds perhaps for good. He resigned after being indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury after the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame was disclosed.

Libby said Friday he was confident that he would be "completely and totally exonerated."

The indictment represents a significant blow to the Bush administration brain trust. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who remains under investigation, is a more powerful and better known figure -- the political advisor who helped orchestrate George W. Bush's rise from Texas politics to the presidency.

But Libby had a more direct hand in the national security decisions that largely have defined Bush's administration, particularly the invasion of Iraq. And in a workplace where a single job title carries considerable clout, Libby held three: chief of staff to the vice president, assistant to the vice president for national security affairs and assistant to the president.

Libby has varied interests -- he is a skiing fanatic, a fan of the occasional shot of tequila and the author of a well-received novel, "The Apprentice," which has erotic themes and is set in a blizzard in turn-of-the-century Japan.

"He's a little edgy," said an administration official who has worked with him, noting that Libby is fond of pursuits "you don't think of a guy named 'Scooter' doing."

Libby's current troubles are mind-boggling to many of his closest colleagues and friends, who say he is not a conservative ideologue and is known for his discretion.

Jackson Hogen, Libby's roommate at Yale and a frequent skiing companion, recalled questioning Libby on a ski lift several years ago for his views on how the administration planned to confront North Korea. Libby deflected the question by joking that he believed that the United States "should adopt a policy of vigorous name-calling," Hogen wrote in a 2003 column in Ski magazine.

"By nature and profession, he is someone who prizes discretion and saying the right thing at the right time," Hogen said in a telephone interview this week. "It does seem odd that he would be the one shoved into this particular noose. But this tale is nothing if not strange."

Libby was not charged with leaking Plame's name after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, said the administration "twisted" intelligence on Iraq. But the 22-page indictment accuses him of repeatedly lying to investigators and the grand jury -- and even fabricating a story about when he learned that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, how he learned it and what he did with the information.

Libby, 55, was raised in Connecticut, the son of an investment banker who gave him "Scooter" as a nickname after watching the boy scoot across his crib. (The initial "I" is for Irving.) Libby attended the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where he was a prominent figure on campus and the head of the debating society.

In the late 1960s, his political leanings were Democratic. He supported the presidential campaign of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. But at Yale, Libby enrolled in a class taught by a young professor named Paul D. Wolfowitz, and became enamored with the idea that the United States should be more assertive in spreading American-style democracy overseas.

In 1981, it was Wolfowitz -- now president of the World Bank -- who launched Libby's career in government. As an assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration, Wolfowitz recruited Libby from his law practice in Philadelphia to become a speechwriter at the State Department. Later, in the George H.W. Bush administration, Wolfowitz brought Libby to the Pentagon as his assistant.

The two helped draft a post-Cold War manifesto that urged the U.S. to establish itself as an unrivaled superpower. They also disagreed with the decision by the first President Bush to end the Persian Gulf War after Saddam Hussein's troops were expelled from Kuwait.

"We objected to it," Libby said of the decision to halt the war rather than extend the fight and perhaps allow Iraqis to rise up against Hussein, according to an account in "Rise of the Vulcans," a history of Bush's war Cabinet by former Los Angeles Times reporter James Mann. "I was floored by the decision. Neither of us liked it."

It was during his stint at the Pentagon that Libby caught the notice of Cheney, then the secretary of Defense.

Los Angeles Times Articles