WASHINGTON — With the indictment and subsequent resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, the Bush administration has lost its most influential Jewish foreign-policy maker, Washington insiders say.
Following the departure over the summer of top Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, no Jewish official in the administration had more power than Libby, 55. In fact, some say that his relationship with Cheney — widely viewed as America’s most influential vice president ever — was so symbiotic that Libby was even more influential than Feith and Wolfowitz. Libby’s formal title, assistant to the president, gave him a rank that was equivalent to the president’s national security advisor.
Still, Libby wasn’t usually identified as one of Washington’s most influential Jewish neoconservatives, even by conspiracy theorists obsessed with the Iraq War. Even among Washington’s pro-Israel activists, only a few knew for sure that Libby was Jewish. One such activist, who used to meet with Libby often, characterized him as “Jewish, but not really.”
Known for his obsessive tendency to avoid publicity, Libby does not wear his Jewishness on his sleeve. However, he is a member of Virginia’s largest Reform synagogue, Temple Rodef Shalom, which is not far from his home in the Washington suburb of McLean.
Better known by his nickname, Scooter, Libby seldom appears in public, unlike Wolfowitz, his mentor. Wolfowitz taught him political science at Yale in the mid-1970s and then brought him to Cheney’s Defense Department during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
Libby stepped down immediately after being charged October 28 with lying to a federal grand jury investigating the leaking of a CIA operative’s name two years ago. The operative, Valerie Plame, is married to Joseph Wilson, a former American diplomat who said that his wife was targeted for retribution after he publicly accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence in order to justify the war in Iraq.
Libby’s fingerprints, Washington insiders said, were on most major foreign policy decisions made by the Bush administration. On Iraq and the war on terrorism, he played a leading role — along with Cheney — often to the chagrin of the State Department and the CIA.
Israeli officials liked Libby. They described him as an important contact who was accessible, genuinely interested in Israel-related issues and very sympathetic to their cause. It is virtually impossible to find any transcript or other sign that in recent years, Libby has given a major public speech or granted an on-the-record interview to a journalist.
The two widely recognized documents that Libby has authored are “The Apprentice,” his historical novel set in early 20th-century Japan, and the widely reported note he sent earlier this summer to New York Times journalist Judith Miller as she sat in a federal prison for refusing to testify about her interviews with Libby.
In keeping with his secretive tendencies, Libby has for years refused to tell people what the I. in his name stands for. Only recently, when reporters went back and checked old high school yearbooks and other personal documentation, did they find references to Irv, Irve and Irving, which was his father’s name. Now that he’s been indicted as a pivotal player in a much publicized White House scandal, surely the American public will learn more about him than the Irving in his name.