Scooter Libby has a Web site. He’s not running for office, but the site makes it looks like he is. The lead picture on the front page shows him with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Other snapshots portray him in soft focus and at oblique angles, the kinds of images candidates use to make themselves look more huggable. Fortunately, Libby’s Web designers didn’t stoop to showing him with dogs and children.
The vice president’s former top aide spent his career behind the scenes, which may be laudable from a policy perspective, but it’s problematic now that he’s in a fix. Americans didn’t have much of an image of him before he was indicted on five felony counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements. The newspaper photos published since have made Libby look like he’s stood in line all day at the free clinic.
The Web site is the public face of the Libby Legal Defense Trust, which is raising money for Libby’s defense. “Good lawyers are very expensive,” says the site. “And Scooter and his family already have made many sacrifices during Scooter’s ten years of dedicated public service. Now they need our help to win this fight.” There are several remarkable things about the Libby site. The first is the astonishing power of his friends. Despite his troubles, an incredible array of GOP rainmakers and powerbrokers stand with him. The advisory committee would make any GOP candidate salivate. Its chairman, former ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, is a former RNC finance chairman as is Lawrence E. Bathgate II. Mercer Reynolds, Sam Fox, and Wayne Berman brought in heaps of cash for George Bush’s presidential campaigns. Members of the Republican establishment, including former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and former Energy Secretary Spence Abraham and others with the titles “Honorable” or “Ambassador,” have also put their reputations behind Libby. The fund hopes to raise $5 million. Visitors can add to the $2 million reportedly already raised without worrying about disclosure. The Libby team is not releasing the names of its donors.
The soft Scooter sell is about more than just raising money. It’s also about cleaning up his image for the public, the press, and potential jurors. The Web site offers a page titled “What You Aren’t Hearing,” with testimonials lined up like movie blurbs. The endorsements, taken from Bush and Cheney’s public comments, news articles, and television chat shows, offer hints about Libby’s defense that go beyond his legal team’s official filings. The Web site suggests three strategies his lawyers may pursue.
1. Libby is a good guy. Blowing the cover of a CIA agent to discredit a political foe is unseemly. According to reporters and the special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, that’s what Libby did when he outed Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame. The defense team needs to overcome the image of a White House apparatchik hellbent on destruction. So, out will come the testimonials to his decency and humility. The site offers a preview: “He’s cared much more about trying to do a job than trying to get visibility for himself,” says Dennis Ross, Clinton’s envoy to the Middle East and Libby’s colleague in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. The site quotes the National Journal on Libby’s “penchant for maintaining a modest profile.” The defendant is selfless. “He’s dedicated many years of his life, despite having a prosperous law practice, to public service,” is a quote from former colleague Mary Matalin. Above all, say several, Libby is not a liar. “Scooter is a tough, honorable, honest guy,” says former Republican Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber.
2. Everyone forgets. Again and again Scooterlibby.com reminds us that he was a busy guy. He not only advised the president but he ran the vice president’s office and acted as Cheney’s principal national security adviser. He dealt with a blizzard of information every day, much of it about life-and-death issues. So, he naturally forgot the details about when he learned about Joe Wilson’s wife and her work at the CIA and when he might have passed that information on to reporters. To support this case, the site quotes former Bush Legislative Affairs Director, Nick Calio: “There are a lot of things that I don’t remember. I go through notes sometimes now and say I don’t even remember being in the meeting, let alone, you know, having said what I said.” Former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson also supports the fuzzy memory theory: “From personal experience as a former public official who has been investigated by a Special Prosecutor, I know how easy it is not to be able to remember details of seemingly insignificant conversations.”
Fitzgerald’s indictment argues that for Libby the Plame information was far from a “seemingly insignificant” fact. That’s why Libby repeatedly asked administration colleagues about Wilson’s wife and her role in sending Wilson on a mission to Africa to investigate Saddam Hussein’s effort to purchase uranium oxide. Libby thought Plame played a significant enough role that he interrupted his blizzard of important duties and passed the information along to reporters and other administration officials engaged in the concerted effort to refute Wilson’s charges.
Libby’s site has a hard time, because it simultaneously is trying to argue that a) he was likely to forget the Plame episodes and b) he was hypercompetent. Are we supposed to believe Ted Olson when he bemoans how hard it is to remember details? Or do we believe World Bank President and Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz when he describes Libby as “a kind of perfectionist”? Or Matalin when she describes him as “meticulous”?
3. Patrick Fitzgerald is no Ken Starr. Bush partisans always wondered why the president and his aides praised special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald during his investigation. If the special counsel delivered indictments, those favorable assessments would make it hard to attack him. Libby’s team is trying to make up for lost time in going after the prosecutor to weaken his case against Libby. Seven of the 19 people listed as offering perspectives on Libby are actually quoted criticizing Fitzgerald. “[Fitzgerald] has been investigating a very simple factual scenario and he’s missed this crucial fact,” former Deputy Attorney General Victoria Toensing is quoted as saying.
Given the criticisms, perhaps it’s time for Fitzgerald to update his Web page as well. Right now there’s not even a single picture.