Fitzgerald investigation: Is Cheney next?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

March 7, 2007

A Judgment on Cheney Is Still to Come

WASHINGTON, March 6 ‹ In legal terms, the jury has spoken in the Libby case. In 
political terms, Dick Cheney is still awaiting a judgment.

For weeks, Washington watched, mesmerized, as the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. 
cast Vice President Cheney, his former boss, in the role of puppeteer, pulling 
the strings in a covert public relations campaign to defend the Bush 
administration¹s case for war in Iraq and discredit a critic.

³There is a cloud over the vice president,² the prosecutor, Patrick J. 
Fitzgerald, told the jury in summing up the case last month.

Mr. Cheney was not charged in the case, cooperated with the investigation and 
expressed a willingness to testify if called, though he never was. Yet he was a 
central figure throughout, fighting back against suggestions that he and 
President Bush had taken the country to war on the basis of flawed intelligence,
showing himself to be keenly sensitive to how he was portrayed in the news media
and backing Mr. Libby to the end.

With Tuesday¹s verdict on Mr. Libby ‹ guilty on four of five counts, including 
perjury and obstruction of justice ‹ Mr. Cheney¹s critics, and even some of his 
supporters, said the vice president had been diminished.

³The trial has been death by 1,000 cuts for Cheney,² said Scott Reed, a 
Republican strategist. ³It¹s hurt him inside the administration. It¹s hurt him 
with the Congress, and it¹s hurt his stature around the world because it has 
shown a lot of the inner workings of the White House. It peeled the bark right 
off the way they operate.²

The legal question in the case was whether Mr. Libby lied to investigators and 
prosecutors looking into the leak of the name of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie 
Wilson, whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, wrote an Op-Ed
article in The New York Times accusing the White House of distorting pre-war 
intelligence. Mr. Cheney scrawled notes on a copy of the article, asking ³did 
his wife send him on a junket?²

Now, Mr. Cheney faces a civil suit from Mr. Wilson.

The political question was whether Mr. Libby, the vice president¹s former chief 
of staff, was ³the fall guy² for his boss, in the words of Senator Charles E. 
Schumer, Democrat of New York. Though the defense introduced a note from Mr. 
Cheney worrying that Mr. Libby was being sacrificed to protect other White House
officials, some say the vice president bears responsibility for the fate of his 
former aide, known as Scooter.

³It was clear that what Scooter was doing in the Wilson case was at Dick¹s 
behest,² said Kenneth L. Adelman, a former Reagan administration official who 
has been close with both men but has broken with Mr. Cheney over the Iraq war. 
³That was clear. It was clear from Dick¹s notes on the Op-Ed piece that he 
wanted to go get Wilson. And Scooter¹s not that type. He¹s not a vindictive 

Mr. Cheney is arguably the most powerful vice president in American history, and
perhaps the most secretive. The trial painted a portrait of a man immersed in 
the kind of political pushback that is common to all White Houses, yet often 
presumed to be the province of low-level political operatives, not the vice 
president of the United States.

Prosecutors played a tape of Mr. Libby testifying to a grand jury that Mr. 
Cheney had asked Mr. Bush to declassify an intelligence report selectively so 
he, Mr. Libby, could leak it to sympathetic reporters. Mr. Cheney¹s hand-written
scribbles were introduced into evidence at the trial, including the one that 
hinted Mr. Cheney believed that his own staffer, Mr. Libby, was being 

³¹Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick 
his neck in the meat-grinder because of the incompetence of others,² the note 

Mr. Cheney¹s defenders insisted the vice president was not out to smear Mr. 
Wilson or even clear his own name, but simply to defend a policy he fiercely 
believed in.

³There wasn¹t some Cheney strategy or Wilson strategy,² said Mary Matalin, Mr. 
Cheney¹s former political director. ³There was only one strategy: to convey the 
nature of the intelligence and the nature of the threat.²

Ms. Matalin said Mr. Cheney remained as influential as ever where it counts ‹ 
with Mr. Bush.

Still, liberal critics of the administration had a field day with the trial. 
They are hoping the Democrats who now control Congress will use the case to 
investigate Mr. Cheney¹s role further. Mr. Schumer, who was among the first to 
call for a special prosecutor in the case, suggested in an interview that they 

³I think there is a view in the public that Libby was the fall guy,² Mr. Schumer
said, ³and I do think we will look at how the case shows the misuse of 
intelligence both before and after the war in Iraq.²

Such issues are already of intense interest to scholars, who say the Libby case 
will invariably shape Mr. Cheney¹s legacy.

Historians typically pay scant attention to vice presidents, unless they become 
president. Mr. Cheney, though, is an exception. The historian Robert Dallek, who
has written about presidents including Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, predicts scholars will ³be racing for 
vice-presidential records in a way that we¹ve never seen before² to answer 
questions raised by the Libby trial.

³It will deepen the impressions of someone who was a tremendous manipulator and 
was very defensive about mistakes,² Mr. Dallek said, ³and I think it will 
greatly deepen the impression of a political operator who knew the ins and outs 
of Washington hardball politics. He¹s going to be, I think, the most interesting
vice president in history to study.²

On a personal level, friends of the vice president say the trial has been deeply
painful for him. Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney were all but inseparable ‹ Ms. Matalin
has called the former aide ³Cheney¹s Cheney² ‹ and often started their days by 
riding to work together. Mr. Libby accompanied the vice president almost 
everywhere he went, and Mr. Cheney made clear his high professional and personal
regard for his aide, even playing host to a book party for him in 2002 at his 
official residence. Alan K. Simpson, a Republican former senator from Mr. 
Cheney¹s home state, Wyoming, said he saw Mr. Cheney over Christmas and asked 
how he was doing. He took the answer as a kind of oblique reference to the Libby

³He said, ŒI¹m fine, I¹m O.K., I have people I trust around me ‹ it¹s the same 
old stuff, Al,¹ ² Mr. Simpson recalled.

Another friend of Mr. Cheney¹s, Vin Weber, a Republican former congressman, said
the verdict had ³got to be heartbreaking for the vice president.² But Mr. Weber 
said he wished Mr. Cheney would explain himself.

³I don¹t think he has to do a long apologia,² Mr. Weber said, ³but I think he 
should say something, just to pierce the boil a little bit.²

Instead, Mr. Cheney maintained his silence Tuesday. As the verdicts were being 
read, he went to the Capitol for the Republicans¹ regular weekly policy 
luncheon. Later, he issued a two-paragraph statement saying only that he was 
disappointed with the verdict, ³saddened for Scooter and his family² and would 
have no further comment while an appeal is pending.

With a career in politics that goes back to the Nixon White House, Mr. Cheney is
no stranger to Washington scandal and how to weather it. Senator Lindsey Graham,
Republican of South Carolina, said he went hunting with the vice president late 
last year and did not sense that the trial was bothering him.

³He¹s got a thick hide,² Mr. Graham said, ³and he needs it.²

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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