In a White House where clout is often measured by how well you can keep a secret, few men are as furtive and powerful as I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. A dapper, compact man with an easy smile, Libby has worked for Cheney on and off since the late 1980s. But that only partly explains his swat: during the past five years, he has often been the last man to speak to the last man to speak to President George W. Bush before a decision gets made. Libby is so spooky that even today, his office declines to confirm his real first name. (The best speculation is Irving.)
So hardly anyone in Washington could say they were surprised when it turned out that Libby was the long-secret source for New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail this summer rather than tell federal prosecutors exactly to whom she spoke in 2003 about a CIA operative whose diplomat-husband had criticized the President's justifications for the war in Iraq. Libby had been a confidential source for at least three other reporters--including TIME's Matthew Cooper--who received subpoenas in the case. All three eventually spoke to prosecutors after receiving a waiver of confidentiality from Libby. And last week Miller fell in line too, testifying for more than three hours before a grand jury about her conversations with him, after receiving what she called a voluntary and personal waiver of her reporter's promise to keep her source's identity in confidence. "It's good to be free," she said.
Miller's testimony was expected to be the final piece in a puzzle assembled by U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who for 21 months has been investigating how a reference to a CIA operative named Valerie Plame turned up in a column by Robert Novak back in 2003--a potential violation of a 1982 law forbidding the disclosure of a covert CIA operative's identity. Fitzgerald is probing who, if anyone, leaked Plame's name and why. It has been clear from the outset that the White House wasn't happy when Plame's husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, blew the whistle on a weak piece of the Administration's prewar claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), after he had been sent by the CIA on a mission to investigate WMD. A central mystery of the case is what crime Fitzgerald aims to prosecute: the leaks or a possible cover-up involving perjury or obstruction of justice.