Letters Cast Light on Cheney's Inner Circle
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
For nearly seven years, the office of the vice president has been a virtual black hole for information about the Bush administration. But yesterday, a series of letters aimed at securing leniency for Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, provided a small, if selective, window on the world of Cheney and his aides.
Lewis A. Hoffman, the vice president's White House physician, asked Judge Reggie B. Walton to understand "the mindset that was pervasive" in the vice president's office after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the "real fear about what the future held."
"I can tell you for certain that Mr. Libby worked himself to exhaustion day after day," Hoffman wrote in a letter dated April 26. "This is a testimony to his devotion to our nation and the Vice President. I also believe that such continuous stress and total exhaustion is just the setting where a person might honestly confuse what he said to who on what day."
Elizabeth A. Denny, who worked with Libby as the vice president's social secretary, wrote that her "heart broke" the day Libby walked out of the White House after his indictment on perjury charges in 2005. "I could feel a vacuum sucking the wind out of our office, out of the White House," she said. "I could feel his absence immediately in a very large way. I still can't figure it out."
The letters were among more than 150 released by the U.S. District Court in Washington shortly before Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in prison and ordered him to pay a $250,000 fine.
Most came from former colleagues and law partners, friends, neighbors and players in Libby's regular touch football game -- as well as a collection of prominent conservative intellectuals -- who urged the judge to take into account what they described as a lifetime of selfless public service and devotion to family. Some appear to have been solicited by Libby's lawyers; other letter writers said they were writing voluntarily to try to provide a fuller view of Libby's life.
"I regard him as among the most gifted and valuable public servants of his generation," wrote Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of conservative opinion journal Commentary. "I find it inconceivable that a man of his sterling character, who is also famous for his lawyerly scrupulousness, could deliberately have told lies to a grand jury, or for that matter to anyone else."
A smaller number came from ordinary citizens who expressed outrage over Libby's actions and urged the stiffest possible sentence.
"The message sent by this man's actions and the posturing of his cronies that Mr. Libby has been convicted wrongfully for innocent misstatements, at most legal technicalities, is an appalling approval of outrageous behavior that undermines the justice system and undermines faith in government," wrote Steven C. Hychka, whose home address was blacked out by the court, as were all the others.
The writers included some of the most prominent names in conservative thinking about foreign policy, as well as current and former senior government officials -- Donald H. Rumsfeld, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Gen. Peter Pace and Henry A. Kissinger.
"He is a man of strong views, some of which I do not share," Kissinger wrote. "But in my observations, he pursued his objectives with integrity and a sense of responsibility. I would never have associated his actions for which he was convicted with his character. . . . Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it sometimes is to recall precisely a particular sequence of events. This does not justify the action, but it might help you consider mitigating circumstances."
Cheney did not write a letter. His spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the case, saying his statement after the sentencing -- which lamented the sentence and praised Libby -- spoke for itself. She said she did not know whether aides wrote letters on their own or were solicited by Cheney's lawyers.
Some letters came from prominent Democrats, including Richard Danzig, secretary of the Navy during the Clinton administration, and James Carville, who signed a supportive message with his wife, Mary Matalin.
Several letter writers, even some who indicated they disagreed with Libby, said they found Libby to be a man of uncommon decency. "While he has been portrayed in the press as an ideologue and highly partisan, this characterization is very far from the truth in all of my dealings with him over the years," wrote Francis Fukuyama, a prominent foreign-policy thinker. "To the contrary, in my discussions with him on issues from Middle East diplomacy to his work on the Cox Commission to the Iraq war, he has always been open to different views and notably without rancor."
Like Kissinger, other letter writers sought to buttress a major line of Libby's defense, that he innocently forgot some of his conversations in the Valerie Plame case because of his crushing workload. John R. Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, wrote of how "information flowed across his desk on a daily basis like water coming out of a high-pressure fire hydrant, with more demands for action than could humanly be met."
"In the face of all these demands, keeping every detail straight is impossible," Bolton wrote.
Others offered details of what they described as Libby's crucial role in key administration decisions. Former ambassador and White House aide Robert D. Blackwill called Libby a "crucial voice" in President Bush's decision to accelerate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"Sadly I believe that Mr. Libby's premature departure from the Administration has been a major reason for the downward spiral of the situation in Iraq and the consuming mess in which we find ourselves today regarding that country," he wrote.
Many letter writers expressed frustration over the Libby saga's conclusion. Former senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) wrote that he "shall always remain eternally puzzled how the situation ever 'came to this.' Some are of the opinion that he has 'fallen upon his sword' and yet, it is my perception that the sword has fallen upon him!"