It was fall 2003. The news had broken that the Justice Department, at the request of the CIA, was investigating the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as an undercover intelligence officer, and FBI investigators were targeting White House officials. With a firestorm under way, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, went to see his boss. Libby hadn’t passed any information about Valerie Wilson to right-wing columnist Robert Novak, who first published the leak in a July 14, 2003, column. But he had talked to other reporters about Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection before the leak occurred. And he also knew that Karl Rove, White House über-strategist, had spoken to Novak about her days before the leak column. That is, Libby knew a fair bit about the episode.
Libby told Cheney he had not been one of Novak’s two Administration sources for the leak, and he offered to disclose to the Vice President everything he knew. But Cheney did not want to hear it; Libby said no more.
Shortly after that, Libby, responding to a request from investigators, came across a note in his files indicating that in early June 2003–weeks before the Wilson affair began–Cheney had told him that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson worked at the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division, a unit of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. (At that point, the former envoy had spoken only privately to two reporters about his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, during which he had concluded there was not much to the intelligence report that Iraq had been uranium-shopping there.) The note was a significant discovery. A key issue in the investigation was who in the Bush Administration had spread information about Wilson’s wife to undermine Wilson’s charge that the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence (a criticism Wilson made public in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed). And Libby had uncovered evidence showing that Cheney had conducted his own research on Joseph Wilson early on, learned about Valerie Wilson’s CIA job and shared the information with Libby. Cheney apparently was the first White House official to discuss Valerie Wilson’s specific place of work.
With a criminal investigation in full force, Libby told Cheney, I first heard about Valerie Wilson from you. From me? Cheney replied. The Vice President then tilted his head and, as Libby later said, “that was that.” The two discussed it no further.
These vignettes of how Cheney does business–in a mob-boss sort of way–emerged from the recently completed obstruction of justice trial of Scooter Libby. The former senior White House aide was found guilty of four of five counts in a criminal case narrowly focused on whether Libby had lied to the FBI and a grand jury when he claimed he had no official knowledge of Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment in the days before the leak and that he had merely shared with two reporters (Matt Cooper, then of Time, and Judith Miller, then of the New York Times) scuttlebutt about Wilson’s wife that he had heard from Meet the Press host Tim Russert.
The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that Libby had gathered information on Wilson’s wife before the leak and then–after a criminal investigation was launched–tried to conceal what he had done. But beyond resolving whether Libby had mounted a criminal cover-up to hide his–and perhaps Cheney’s–involvement in the leak episode, the trial exposed the inner world of Cheney’s crew. The proceedings also proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Bush White House was neck-deep in the Valerie Wilson leak (even if Novak’s original source was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) and that the White House lied when it claimed otherwise.