10/29/2005

In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role - New York Times

For now, she said, "Scooter has fallen on his sword, and the focus is on him.

October 30, 2005
The Vice President
In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - Vice President Dick Cheney makes only three brief appearances in the 22-page federal indictment that charges his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, with lying to investigators and misleading a grand jury in the C.I.A. leak case. But in its clear, cold language, it lifts a veil on how aggressively Mr. Cheney's office drove the rationale against Saddam Hussein and then fought to discredit the Iraq war's critics.

The document now raises a central question: how much collateral damage has Mr. Cheney sustained?

Many Republicans say that Mr. Cheney, already politically weakened because of his role in preparing the case for war, could be further damaged if he is forced to testify about the infighting over intelligence that turned out to be false. At the least, they say, his office will be temporarily off balance with the resignation of Mr. Libby, who controlled both foreign and domestic affairs in a vice presidential office that has served as a major policy arm for the West Wing.

"Cheney has had a tight, effective team, and they have been an incredible support system for the presidency," said Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "To the degree that that support system is weakened, it's a bad day at the office. But no person is indispensable." For now, David Addington, the vice president's counsel, is the leading candidate to replace Mr. Libby.

Mr. Cheney's allies noted that there was no suggestion in the indictment that the most powerful vice president in American history, with enormous influence into all important corners of administration policy, had done anything wrong. They also said that Mr. Libby, whose role has been diminished in the past year as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became more powerful and the leak investigation took its toll, could be quickly replaced from the vice president's large Rolodex of support.

"His reach within both the party mechanism and the policy structures of the government is so deep that I believe that it is possible to find somebody who would provide the technical and intellectual support that Libby did, even if he doesn't have the same personal relationship that he had with Libby," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire Republican with White House ties. "That's very hard to duplicate."

The indictment against Mr. Libby, known as Scooter, alleges that the vice president's office was the hub of a concerted effort to gather information about key critics of the Bush Iraq policy. [Page 28.]

The larger question, Republicans said, was Mr. Cheney's standing with the public - and what his staff has often called the vice president's constituency of one, Mr. Bush.

Christine Todd Whitman, the president's former EPA administrator and a longtime Bush family friend who was critical of the White House and the Republican right wing in a recent book, said that she did not expect the president's personal relationship with Mr. Cheney to change. Nonetheless, she said she believed that if more information about Mr. Cheney's involvement in the leak case becomes public, "and if it keeps hanging around and getting close to the vice president, he might step aside - but that's an extreme case."

For now, she said, "Scooter has fallen on his sword, and the focus is on him."

In Indictment's Wake, a Focus on Cheney's Powerful Role - New York Times

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