Libby at Center of CIA 'Outing' Storm

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Before he became Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby spent time working in the State Department, the Department of Defense and the U.S. House of Representatives. Glenn Kessler, State Department reporter for The Washington Post, tells Michele Norris about Libby's career.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Like Judith Miller, Glenn Kessler also received a waiver from Lewis "Scooter" Libby to testify in the Plame case. Kessler is diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, and we called him to get some insight on Libby and his role in the Bush administration.

Mr. GLENN KESSLER (Diplomatic Correspondent, The Washington Post): Scooter Libby is really one of the most powerful people in the administration, particularly on foreign policy, someone who is at the table with the president when the top decisions are being made.

NORRIS: Now is that unusual for the vice president's chief of staff to take such a strong role in foreign policy?

Mr. KESSLER: Yes, it is unusual. It is unique to this administration, just as it's unique that the vice president is such a powerful voice on foreign policy and domestic policy as well.

NORRIS: Washington is full of power brokers who exert a lot of energy actually seeking the spotlight. This sounds like someone who is more comfortable behind the scenes.

Mr. KESSLER: Yes, he is. And he's very effective at it. He's a man with a very wicked sense of humor and an incredible skill in working his way through the bureaucracy and assembling facts in a way that makes the case for either his agenda or his boss's agenda. He is really a classic Washington insider and one of the most effective in Washington. There are many people that dislike his politics or the policies he's advocated, but I don't think there are many people that would doubt his effectiveness.

NORRIS: What makes him effective?

Mr. KESSLER: He's very good at marshaling the evidence for his case. He's good at attracting allies. And he also has the backing of one of the most powerful people in the administration. The advantage that the vice president's office has is that it's a pretty small office. If you're the secretary of State, you manage 30,000 people. If you're the vice president, you manage 30. And I've once described that as the difference between a lumbering aircraft carrier and a slick little Coast Guard cutter that's able to maneuver around the waves and get there ahead of the lumbering aircraft carrier.

NORRIS: What is his standard contact with the press? How much contact does he have with reporters in Washington?

Mr. KESSLER: Scooter is almost never quoted on the record, so that's a very difficult question to answer.

NORRIS: So even then it's behind the scenes.

Mr. KESSLER: Right.

NORRIS: Throughout his tenure in this administration, he's been tethered to a string of national security scandals: the Valerie Plame leak, secret meetings about Halliburton contracts, questions about intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. How has he managed to survive all of this?

Mr. KESSLER: Well, I think that, first of all, he has a very close relationship with the vice president. And you know, the vice president, he doesn't care that much about the stuff that consumes official Washington and the media; he just goes ahead and does his business. And so I don't think that that's--as far as I can tell, that's never really affected Scooter Libby's position within--with the vice president, and ergo with the president of the United States.

NORRIS: You and others refer to him as Scooter. Where did that name come from?

Mr. KESSLER: It's a childhood name. He apparently scooted along all over the house. He officially goes by I, period, Lewis Libby, but I don't think anyone in Washington has ever called him anything but Scooter.

NORRIS: Glenn, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. KESSLER: Glad to be with you.

NORRIS: Glenn Kessler is diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post. And if you'd like some help keeping track of this very complicated story, there's a timeline of the Plame case at our Web site, npr.org.

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