Correction to This Article
An Oct. 31 article on I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby incorrectly identified Paul D. Wolfowitz as a former undersecretary of state; he was an assistant secretary of state. The article also incorrectly said that Libby was first told about Valerie Plame's CIA affiliation by Vice President Cheney.

Known for Discretion, Libby Is A Surprising Figure in CIA Leak

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By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005

Friends recall how relieved I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was that his 15 minutes of fame seemed to be behind him, when as Marc Rich's lawyer he was hauled before an aggressive congressional committee investigating how the fugitive financier came to be pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

For a man known to thrive on anonymity, who as Vice President Cheney's top aide would only talk to reporters if his name was not used, and who cautioned White House subordinates not to talk to the media -- no one, least of all Libby, expected an encore.

If only he had known his next 15 minutes would turn out so badly, that he would spiral from the pinnacle of government power to criminal charges.

The senior White House aide was in seclusion over the weekend at his McLean home with his wife and two grade-school-age children trying, as one friend said, "to put one foot in front of the other," after being indicted Friday on five counts of lying, perjury and obstructing justice -- the only person charged in the 22-month CIA leak investigation.

Libby, 55, was braced for the worst, his friends say, but not necessarily prepared, as he pushed through what were likely his darkest days leading up to the indictment.

He was grieving over his mother's death about 10 days ago -- the same day he learned that White House adviser Karl Rove told the grand jury that Libby may have been the first to inform him of the identity of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. A few days later, Libby's relationship with New York Times reporter Judith Miller -- who spent 85 days in jail protecting his identity as a source -- was described enigmatically as an "entanglement" by the paper's executive editor.

And on Friday, the man who friends insist was honored to serve for all the right reasons was forced to resign his $161,000 job as the vice president's chief of staff and as a special assistant to the president -- hobbling out of the White House on crutches because he recently broke his foot.

"He has no sense of entitlement, no sense that he's been victimized. Just an attitude of 'circumstances have to be dealt with,' " said Mary Matalin, a friend and former White House colleague, who spoke to Libby over the weekend. "He knows he has got a job to do, and he will get it done. . . . Whining is not in his lexicon."

Matalin described Libby's friends as "crushed" by the turn of events -- and all of those interviewed expressed bewilderment that a man so meticulous, so discreet, so smart -- could end up in this situation. The investigation was triggered when news outlets reported that Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- a very vocal White House critic on the war -- was a CIA operative.

Although Libby was spared an even more serious charge -- purposely unmasking Plame -- reporters testified that Libby did steer them to her.

No one would ruminate on the record about Libby's motives, but there is speculation that perhaps Libby is falling on his sword to protect Cheney, not only his boss, but also a personal friend. The two ride into work together in Cheney's motorcade most mornings. Although Libby testified otherwise under oath, his own notes indicate that it was Cheney who first told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. What is not known is whether Cheney was aware of -- or sanctioned -- Libby's effort to discredit Wilson and his wife.

"I've thought about this all night," said one acquaintance. "One possibility is that Scooter was just pushing back because Wilson was after them -- but it just went too far. And frankly he may have thought the reporters would never testify."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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