Cheney Aide Libby Heads To Court

Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in this March 1, 2001 file photo. AP

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff is making his first court appearance since his indictment in the CIA leak investigation, a case in which Bush administration officials including Cheney could be summoned to testify.

When he was indicted Friday for perjury, obstruction and false statements, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's lawyer said he would "vigorously fight the charges," and would plead not guilty, reports CBS News correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis.

That has provided more fuel to the political debate over the White House's possible misuse of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The Libby case stems from a 22-month criminal investigation by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

The leak case controversy is one of the factors in a new plunge in the president's poll numbers, reports CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer. A new CBS News Poll shows Mr. Bush's approval rating at its lowest point ever — 35 percent.

And with the leak investigation still under way and top White House aide Karl Rove under the microscope, reports CBS News Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante, the pressure will only increase from congressional Republicans who feel vulnerable going into an election year.

Cheney's former top aide was charged Friday with lying to investigators about leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. Plame's name was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak after Wilson accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence in the run-up to the war to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

The indictment says Libby got information about Plame's identity in June 2003 from Cheney, the State Department and the CIA, then spread it to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. Libby told FBI agents and a federal grand jury that his information had come from NBC reporter Tim Russert.

Russert says he and Libby never discussed Wilson or his wife.

Miller, who never wrote a story, said Libby told her about the CIA connection of Wilson's wife. Cooper said Libby was one of his sources for a story identifying the CIA connection of Wilson's wife.

Libby attorney Joseph Tate said inconsistencies in recollections among people regarding long-ago events should not be charged as crimes. Libby, who says he is confident he will be exonerated, is accused of one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of lying to FBI agents and two counts of perjury before a federal grand jury.

"Don't look for drama or eloquence at this court session," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "This is a very short almost ministerial event, where the judge advises Libby of the charges against him and Libby enters a not guilty plea. I don't expect any important motions to be heard or even really mentioned."

Libby has hired well-known criminal trial lawyers Ted Wells and William Jeffress to bolster his legal team.

Wells won acquittals for former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy and former Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan. He is a partner at the New York-based firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Jeffress is from the firm Baker Botts, where Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III is a senior partner. Jeffress has won acquittals for public officials accused of extortion, perjury, money laundering, and vote-buying, his firm's Web site says.

The judge handling Libby's case, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, is an appointee of three Republican presidents.

Early in his career, Walton was a highly respected trial lawyer for the U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia. When President Reagan appointed him to D.C. Superior Court, Walton became known as a no-nonsense judge who was tough on sentencing street criminals. He served as the senior White House adviser for crime in the administration of President Bush's father before returning to Superior Court. In 2001, President Bush nominated Walton to the U.S. District Court.

Senate Democrats have seized on the Libby indictment to put the Bush administration on the defensive, focusing attention on the possible manipulation of prewar intelligence on Iraq and the failure by Senate Republicans on the intelligence committee to promptly finish an investigation of the issue.

Columbia University-trained Libby has foreign policy expertise as a former aide in the Defense and State departments. He has been extremely loyal to Cheney and, in return, had the vice president's unwavering trust.

Libby was known as "Cheney's Cheney." Just as President Bush has Cheney as his behind-the-scenes adviser and problem-solver, Cheney had Libby as his trusted right-hand man. "Scooter is to Cheney as Cheney is to Bush," former Cheney aide Mary Matalin said.

Libby's nickname, a bit incongruous for such a powerful Washington figure, was given to Libby by his father when as a baby he would "scoot" from place to place. It stuck, and Libby joked that it kept people from taking him too seriously in Washington.

Some on Cheney's staff did not like Libby's management skills. He didn't spend much time grooming those who worked for him and instead focused his attention on serving the president and vice president in a demanding job that can exact a high personal toll.

In his dual role as Cheney's chief of staff and adviser to Bush, Libby has had extraordinary influence and access in all aspects of White House policy-making, particularly national security. He was an expert in homeland security and weapons of mass destruction even before Sept. 11, 2001, and used that knowledge to shape administration policy after the terrorist attacks.

Libby and the vice president got to know each other at the Pentagon when Cheney was defense secretary under the first President George Bush. By 2000, Libby was working as a top adviser to Cheney in the presidential campaign and then followed him to the White House.

Those who worked with Libby and Cheney said they were a good cerebral match, and Libby wasn't afraid to speak up when he saw things differently than the vice president.

"There's clearly comfortable enough a relationship there that he doesn't hesitate to disagree with the vice president or offer a different opinion or an unpopular opinion," said Republican consultant Stuart Stevens, who became a friend of Libby after helping prepare Cheney for the 2000 vice presidential debate.
  • Scott Benjamin

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