In the fall of 1968, Yale’s football season was well under way and the Bulldogs were squaring off against the Columbia Lions. After the contest was over, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby ’72 and his freshman roommate Jackson Hogen ’72 stormed the rain-soaked Old Campus grounds and played a frenzied football game of their own.
This is how Libby’s classmates said they remember Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff: as a hardworking, fun-loving jock. It is a far different picture than the one that has emerged more recently — that of a powerful behind-the-scenes player in the U.S. government. The man commonly referred to as “Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney” was indicted last week for allegedly lying to a grand jury about his role in leaking a covert CIA operative’s identity. Libby pleaded not guilty at his hearing this week.
But it was his time at Yale, particularly a class with a professor named Paul Wolfowitz, that first ushered Libby into political life.
A left-leaning start
From beginning to end, Libby was educated at some of the nation’s top schools. Born in New Haven and raised in Florida, he attended Phillips Academy before going to Yale, where he lived in Jonathan Edwards College, and to Columbia Law School.
Some of his fellow classmates said they remember Libby as outgoing.
“He was a good student, but he knew how to have fun,” Allen Carney ’72 said.
Libby’s years at Yale included the arrival of female undergraduates in 1969, a takeover of a college building by Students for A Democratic Society, and the trials of several members of the Black Panthers.
The 1972 class book describes his college years as containing “the University’s most important change since its founding [and] some of its worst crises.”
Although Yale had just gone coed, classmates said Libby chose to spend most of his time with his male peers. While some of his male classmates said they remembered Libby as an excellent friend, their female counterparts did not claim to feel as close to Libby.
“He was really more in with the jocks … in that sort of guy thing,” Sarah Birdsall ’72 said.
In a time of fervent, overwhelmingly left-wing political activity — Carney said he thought about 95 percent of JE’s members were Democrats — Libby’s politics did not stray from the norm, Carney said.
Even though he would eventually become a prominent Republican, Libby’s political beginnings would not have pointed in that direction. He served as vice president of the Yale College Democrats and later campaigned for Michael Dukakis when he was running for governor of Massachusetts.
“I don’t remember him standing out from the basic anti-war, Democratic view at the time,” said a classmate who wished to remain anonymous.
Two particular Yale courses helped guide Libby’s future endeavors. One of these was a creative writing course, which started Libby on a 20-year mission to complete a novel. The finished product, an erotic thriller called “The Apprentice,” was published in 1996 to generally favorable reviews. The back cover describes the hero’s involvement in “murder, passion and heart-stopping chases through the snow.” When the book was published in paperback in 2002, Cheney held a lavish party at his home to celebrate.
The other Yale course that fundamentally shaped Libby’s future was a political science class with professor and future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In an interview with author James Mann, Libby said Wolfowitz was one of his favorite professors, and their professional relationship did not end with the class.
A shift to the right
Libby’s change to conservatism was “evolutionary,” Hogen said.
Libby graduated magna cum laude and immediately enrolled at Columbia Law School. He then went on to practice law in Philadelphia, where Birdsall was studying at the time.
“You could tell then that he was into this politics thing and moving in a conservative direction,” she said.
Birdsall said she particularly remembered a dinner she had with Libby when he recited all 79 episodes of “Star Trek” from memory. “He was very detail-oriented,” Birdsall said.
Libby remained at his law practice in Philadelphia until he received a phone call from his former professor in 1981. Wolfowitz asked Libby to come work for him at the State Department. Libby agreed and joined Wolfowitz on the State Department’s policy planning staff. From then on, Libby grew closer and closer to the burgeoning neoconservative movement.
Hogen said he could not have predicted Libby’s eventual position in government based on their time at Yale.
“It wasn’t clear if Wolfowitz or creative writing would win out,” he said.
Hogen said the conservatives who helped Libby into power ultimately shaped his political views.
“If the person who promotes you into government service, if the people you work with and hang out with, if they’re in the Reagan Administration and Defense, then that’s what feeds you,” he said.
Libby’s influence in the neoconservative movement increased over time. He was recruited by Wolfowitz again, this time to work in the Pentagon under George H.W. Bush. By 1992, he was co-writing defense planning guidance with Wolfowitz for Cheney, who was then secretary of defense.
After President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 took control of the White House, Libby became the managing partner of a Washington law firm. His most well-known client was billionaire Marc Rich, whom he represented for 15 years. Rich fled to Switzerland to avoid charges of tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran, but was eventually pardoned by Clinton.
In 1997, Libby co-founded Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative group that, among other things, called on President Clinton to make it official U.S. policy to strive for regime change in Iraq.
The group’s founding manifesto was signed by Jeb Bush, William Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby and Yale history professor Donald Kagan, among others. Libby also co-authored the PNAC report “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” in 2000.
By 2001, he had become Cheney’s chief of staff and his most trusted adviser. The two rode to work together every morning, and Libby often publicly expressed his admiration for his boss.
“When I find a time when I disagree with Dick Cheney, I say to myself, ‘Why am I wrong?'” he told The New York Times in a 2001 interview.
An uncertain future
In June and July of 2003, Libby spoke with reporters Judith Miller of The New York Times, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Tim Russert of NBC News, allegedly revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative.
These meetings led to Libby’s eventual indictment and resignation after he allegedly lied to the grand jury about his conversations with all three journalists. He now faces up to 30 years in prison.
Interviews with classmates showed widespread disbelief over the indictments. But some were more sympathetic than others.
“I’m shocked that he has been so involved in the running of a presidency that I personally have a lot of difficulty with, but this is a guy I went to college with,” Carney said. “I feel a lot of pain.”
Hogen said he disagrees with Libby politically, but their friendship has not suffered.
“I’m really saddened because Scooter- — no matter what one thinks of his politics — he doesn’t deserve this,” Hogen said. “The politics, not so good; the person, very good.”
Birdsall said she did not feel as strong of an allegiance to Libby.
“My first reaction is, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,'” she said. “My second is, ‘He’s getting what he deserves.’ He dragged us into this crappy war.”
Hogen said he did not have enough facts to judge Libby’s guilt.
“I think Scooter’s motives were to defend his office against charges that were in the public domain,” he said. “I don’t know to what degrees that went.”