Dick Cheney: No Change of Role Visible

By Linda Feldmann writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Dick Cheney: No Change of Role Visible

Linda Feldmann writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

The criminal indictment of the vice president's chief of staff, a rare moment in White House history, does not appear to have derailed Dick Cheney's career - or even his routine.

The vice president has replaced the aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, with two other longtime assistants and seems prepared to continue his role as a central player in the Bush presidency, particularly on foreign policy and the Iraq war. Late last month, even as the CIA leak probe crescendoed toward a deadline, the vice president was reportedly lobbying actively for a plan that would exempt CIA employees from a bill banning abuse of prisoners.

As a political actor, his value as a campaigner for Republican candidates in tight races has diminished, analysts say. A Gallup Poll taken after last Friday's indictment of Mr. Libby shows for the first time that a majority of the public (51 percent) views Cheney unfavorably. But as a shaper of policy, Cheney remains central, observers say. Whether his credibility has suffered a blow in the Oval Office is not likely to be known for some time.

Since the indictment, the tight-lipped team in the vice president's office has behaved true to form. Cheney's longtime friends and former associates can't imagine that he is conducting himself any differently from usual. The word that comes up most often is "even-keeled."

"Even his daughter once mentioned that she had never seen him upset in his whole life," says former Rep. Bob McEwen (R) of Ohio, who served in the House with Cheney. "He went through Watergate as chief of staff of the White House, and shortly thereafter he had to put together a presidency. He went through a war as secretary of Defense. He has such a wealth of experience."

On a personal level, the indictment was hard on Cheney's office. "People were very upset," says Charles Black, a Washington lawyer and veteran of Republican presidential politics. "They all felt close to Scooter personally, but I think by [Monday] afternoon, they were going about their jobs, doing what they had to do."

The longer-term impact on Cheney and his office remains to be seen. It's possible, if Libby's case goes to trial, that the vice president will be called to testify as a witness, since he and Libby had allegedly discussed the core issue: the employment of Valerie Plame at the CIA, and the emergence of her husband, Joe Wilson, as a vocal critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In 2002, former Ambassador Wilson traveled to Africa at the behest of the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium, presumably for nuclear weapons, and concluded it had not. But the claim appeared in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address anyway.

Libby has been charged with obstructing justice, perjury, and making false statements to FBI agents, but not the underlying allegation of knowingly exposing the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The indictment alleges that Cheney himself had discussed Wilson's trip and Ms. Plame's employment with Libby, as had other officials in the vice president's office.

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