Libby Gets A Little Help From His Friends

Lewis "Scooter" Libby (R), Chief of Staff for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, leaves his home in McLean, VA October 5, 2005. Libby is at the center of a federal grand jury inquiry into a government leak of the identity of former undercover CIA Officer Valerie Plame. GETTY IMAGES/Win McNamee

By CBSNews.com's Jennifer Hoar

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby won't lack powerful friends or financial resources when he goes on trial on Tuesday. A private fund set up to pay the legal bills of the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney has collected more than $3 million since Libby's indictment 14 months ago.

Libby is charged with obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into who disclosed the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to Robert Novak. Novak outed Plame in his nationally syndicated newspaper column in July 2003.

Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, has claimed that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, and that the outing of his wife was payback from an angry White House.

It was widely believed that Libby was Novak's source, but the case took a dramatic turn last August when it was learned that the conservative columnist's primary source was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"I screwed up," Armitage told CBS News' David Martin.

But the indictment that forced Libby to resign as Cheney's right-hand man remained in place because he is charged with impeding Fitzgerald's investigation, rather than leaking Plame's name to reporters.

Nevertheless, the Armitage disclosure further strengthened the belief among Libby's many influential friends and supporters that he is an innocent man whose life has been turned upside-down by unjust accusations.

One of those friends is Dick Carlson, a former ambassador and Republican stalwart who has headed the Voice of America and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Carlson's son is Tucker Carlson, the conservative TV pundit.)

Like many of Libby's well-heeled friends, Carlson wasted no time in coming to his aid. On the day the indictment was announced in October 2005, Carlson said: "I sent a check by courier to Scooter's house in McLean with the assumption that he'd need it."

That check was the impetus for what quickly morphed into The Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust. A source close to the trust said more than $3 million has been collected to pay Libby's legal bills. The public face of the defense fund is a cadre of Republican heavyweights that include Mary Matalin, Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp.

Another Libby stalwart is former CIA director Jim Woolsey, who has known Scooter for years.

"I would be sympathetic to anyone who was indicted for non-violation of a statute," Woolsey explains, referring to a provision of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a federal crime to reveal the identity of a covert intelligence agent. "He was not indicted for any underlying crime," Woolsey says.

Matalin has called the case against Libby a "grave injustice."

Following the Armitage disclosure, Matalin began an online missive to donors by saying, "We now know who disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame. We now know that Scooter had nothing to do with it."

Because the defense fund is privately administered and has been set up for someone who is no longer a public official, there is no requirement to disclose the identity of donors.

"There is no law requiring disclosure," says former House counsel Stan Brand, "there is no advantage [for Libby] to be more transparent unless he wanted to get back into public life."

Brand estimates that Libby will need an eye-popping $5 million to cover his legal costs, which also include a civil suit filed against him.

Despite this mountain of legal bills, Libby is lucky to keep the company he does. Some in the Clinton administration who came under investigation during the Whitewater era, like then-White House communications director George Stephanopoulos, weren't as fortunate.

They had huge legal bills, Brand said, but they didn't have the luxuries of defense funds to foot those costs.

People like Stephanopoulos either "weren't high-profile enough" at the time, or they "didn't have friends with either the money or the inclination" to form a defense fund, Brand said.
By Jennifer Hoar
  • Jennifer Hoar

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