Correction to This Article
In some Oct. 23 editions, an article about I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby incorrectly reported that he has two sons. He has a son and a daughter. Also, the law firm of Dechert, Price and Rhoads, where Libby once worked, was misidentified.

In the Spotlight And on the Spot

I. Lewis Libby, right, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, is driven from his home in McLean earlier this month. Among vice-presidential aides throughout history, Libby is distinctive for the power and authority he wields.
I. Lewis Libby, right, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, is driven from his home in McLean earlier this month. Among vice-presidential aides throughout history, Libby is distinctive for the power and authority he wields. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is known for his sarcastic, world-weary and at times dark sense of humor. He once quipped to an aide that he planned to stay as Vice President Cheney's top adviser until "I get indicted or something."

That was during President Bush's first term, brighter days for the administration and, more to the point, before a special prosecutor was investigating Libby's possible role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame.

The joke -- recounted by the aide, who no longer works in the administration -- sounded absurd at the time, given Libby's renown for canniness and prudence. He adheres to a favorite Cheney maxim that the vice president credits to the late Sam Rayburn, a longtime House speaker: "You never get in trouble for something you don't say."

Yet Libby could find himself in big trouble for saying too much. And this jibes with a lesser-known side of Libby, the audacious novelist and daredevil skier who has long been gripped with concern about exotic terrorist scenarios; who fervently argues his own viewpoints, particularly on matters of foreign policy; and who can become, friends and associates say, overly passionate in the face of opposing ones.

Libby, 55, has displayed this aspect of himself in a series of heady stations throughout his career -- at the State Department, the Pentagon and, for the past five years, in the Bush administration. Reporters have seen this side of Libby, too, in his full animated conviction. But almost always on deep background, out of public view.

Now Libby's cover of anonymity is blown -- and for possibly blowing the cover of a CIA operative. People close to Libby point out the incongruity of the whole thing.

"He's always been excruciatingly careful, which is ironic in his situation," says World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy secretary of defense and a longtime mentor of Libby's.

The "situation," of course, refers to the Plame case. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is said to be focused on whether Libby and presidential adviser Karl Rove had a part in divulging Plame's identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, retired diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Wilson, who undertook a mission to Africa in 2002, was widely critical of the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Fitzgerald is investigating whether officials in the administration sought to undermine Wilson by outing his wife.

Libby has testified in at least two grand jury appearances about his conversations with reporters on the Plame matter -- including two from The Washington Post. He also spoke at least three times with the New York Times's Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail before accepting permission from Libby to tell the grand jury about their conversations. The Times published a nearly 6,000-word account last Sunday about Miller's dealings with Libby. The story revealed that the misspelled moniker "Valerie Flame" appeared in the same notebook Miller used during an interview with Libby. (In a separate first-person article, Miller wrote she told the grand jury that she believed the name came from another source, whom she could not recall.)

The grand jury's term expires next Friday, and Fitzgerald is expected to reveal his intentions in a matter of days.

Friends describe Libby as engaging and unfailingly chivalrous; it is his habit to stand when a female dining partner excuses herself. He is diligent about returning reporters' calls, albeit on deep background and, in most cases, "telling you absolutely nothing," says William Kristol, a conservative columnist and longtime acquaintance of Libby's who served as chief of staff to Vice President Quayle. Kristol says Libby "is someone who would seem to spend a lot of effort at not getting caught up in something like this."

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