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. …