Times: What we learned from Libby trial about the secretive operation of Vice President Dick Cheney
Published: Sunday February 18, 2007
Print This  Email This

(Editor's note: At bottom, Times puts 'hold' on Cheney story slated for Monday's edition until Tuesday, excerpts from article below)

Monday's New York Times contains an article which will tie together some of the revelations that resulted from testimony at the trial for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to investigators probing the alleged leaking of a CIA operative's name to journalists, and his defense rested its case last week, without calling his former boss, Cheney, to the stand, as had been widely speculated. Libby didn't testify in his own behalf, either.

"What we learned from the Libby trial about the inner workings of the White House, especially the secretive operation of Vice President Dick Cheney," Jim Rutenberg and Scott Shane's article will detail, according to an early summary of the story released to member newspapers of the New York Times News Service received by RAW STORY.

"The story will focus mostly on one crucial week in early July 2003," the budget continues.

On Sunday, the LA Times noted that Cheney was leaving for Asia on Monday for a week long trip, "and many people in Washington are wondering if he might be grateful for an excuse to high-tail it out of town."

"The past few weeks have not been kind to the vice president -- or at least to his public image," Maura Reynolds and James Gerstenzang wrote on Sunday.

The article continued, "This month, a close ally was dressed down by the Pentagon inspector general for skewing intelligence before the Iraq war. The trial of his former chief of staff has depicted the vice president's office as a center of underhanded intrigue. And last week's announcement of a nuclear agreement with North Korea appears to be a repudiation of Cheney's long-term opposition to a deal."

"Those events, culminating months of bad news for the conservative wing of the Republican Party, have prompted speculation that the once-formidable vice president -- the most powerful in American history -- has become a spent force," Reynolds and Gerstenzang wrote.

Also on Sunday, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff took a look at the CIA leaker "you've never heard of." Testifying on the stand as a defense witness at former White House aide I. Lewis Libby's hearing, columnist Robert Novak said that he was not only told by his friend, conservative lobbyist Richard F. Hohlt, that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, but that he also allowed him to "vet" his notorious July of 2003 column.

Newsweek reports that Hohlt even 'leaked' Novak's "outing" column directly to President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, before it had been published.

When asked by Libby's attorney who Hohlt was, Novak replied on the stand that Hohlt was "a very good source" of his that he speaks to "every day."

"Indeed, Hohlt is such a good source that after Novak finished his column naming Plame, he testified, he did something most journalists rarely do: he gave the lobbyist an advance copy of his column," Michael Isikoff reports for Newsweek. "What Novak didn't tell the jury is what the lobbyist then did with it: Hohlt confirmed to NEWSWEEK that he faxed the forthcoming column to their mutual friend Karl Rove (one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak), thereby giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come."

Cheney story 'held' by Times

Although multiple budgets indicated that the Cheney story would run in Monday's edition, an additional budget was released after the final one which indicated that the story was being "held," although for unexplained reasons.

A note from the Times editors said that another article about Sunni lands in Iraq showing oil and gas promise was moved to the front page instead.

While it's still possible that the Cheney story will be published online late Sunday night along with Monday's paper, it may be "held" until Tuesday's edition or later, assuming it will still run.

Excerpts from Times article

"A picture that has emerged from hours of testimony and reams of documents in the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. has shattered any notion that the White House was operating as a model of cohesion in President Bush's first term," Jim Rutenberg writes in an article now slated for the front page of Tuesday's New York Times.

"For example, witnesses from the highest levels of the administration have painted a portrait of a vice president with free rein to operate inside the White House as he saw fit to rebut a war critic shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein," the article continues. "The trial testimony has also called into question whether Cheney, known as a consummate inside player, operated as effectively as his reputation would warrant."

Further excerpts:

The evidence in the trial shows that Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Libby, his former chief of staff, countermanded and even occasionally misled colleagues at the highest levels of Mr. Bush’s inner circle as the two pursued their own goal of clearing the vice president’s name in connection with flawed intelligence used in the case for war.

The testimony in the trial, which is heading for final arguments as early as Tuesday, calls into question whether Mr. Cheney, known as a consummate inside player, operated as effectively as his reputation would hold. For all of his machinations, Mr. Cheney’s efforts sometimes faltered as he tried, with the help of Mr. Libby, to push back against critics during a crucial period in the early summer of 2003, when Mr. Bush’s initial case for war was beginning to fall apart. In some of their efforts, Mr. Cheney and his agent, Mr. Libby, appeared even maladroit in the art of media management.

While others on the White House team were primarily concerned about Mr. Bush, the evidence has shown that Mr. Libby had a more acute concern about his own boss. Unbeknownst to their colleagues, according to testimony, the two carried out a covert public relations campaign to defend not only the case for war but also Mr. Cheney’s connection to the flawed intelligence. In doing so, they used some of the most sensitive and classified intelligence data available, information the rest of Mr. Bush’s team was not yet prepared to put to use in a public fight against a war critic.


Post: Has Cheney lost clout?

A front page article in Tuesday's Washington Post explores the vice president's "shifting status in Washington" and whether or not Cheney has lost "clout.".

"It hasn't helped Cheney that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- who at one time aggressively advanced the vice president's interests through a sometimes hostile bureaucracy -- has been sidelined because of his role in the Valerie Plame case," Michael Abramowitz writes for the Washington Post. "The government's perjury case against Libby will go to the jury this week after a trial that exposed the vice president's large behind-the-scenes involvement in seeking to discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who accused Cheney and other administration officials of twisting intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war."

"There's no question in the current political situation that Cheney has lost clout," former Council on Foreign Relations president Leslie H. Gelb tells the Post. "He's lost clout because Bush has to prove he's not an international confrontationalist, warmonger and diplomatic bungler. If you have such a reputation, you can't function as president."

However, Abramowitz adds, "There is no evidence that Cheney's close relationship with Bush has been lessened."

Excerpts from Post article:


Some conservatives close to the administration see Libby's resignation after his indictment in late 2005 as part of the unraveling of a Cheney network, leaving a void that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the engineer of the North Korea deal, has exploited. Others who have departed include Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, and lower-level aides with long-standing ties to Cheney.

One former administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk more candidly, said Cheney's office has "disappeared" on foreign policy under Libby's replacement, David Addington, and the vice president's foreign policy adviser, John P. Hannah. "Addington and Hannah are smart people, but they are no Scooter. Scooter worked 25 hours a day and he had Addington and Hannah working for him, so it was a powerful combination," this source said. "The result is that Cheney is taking a back seat, and there is no check or balance on Condi in foreign policy. It is what Condi decides and what the president agrees to."

Figuring out how much influence Cheney has is a longtime Washington parlor game -- but ultimately unknowable, given that almost all of his advice is offered privately, and both the president and his No. 2 zealously guard the details. The two meet for a private lunch once a week, share intelligence briefings and get together with staff for policy discussions.