The Libby Trial: A Case of Petty Jealousy

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Sure, the trial of Scooter Libby is a hopelessly complex Washington story about alleged lying and not about whether someone knowingly leaked the name of a covert CIA agent to the press, which was what it was supposed to be about in the first place. Whew. But here's something about it that's not complex: The folks in the West Wing seemingly suffer the same petty jealousies and problems we all have at the office. And they spend an awful lot of time figuring out how to play the press. (As in: Leak things on Fridays because, as ex-veep press secretary Cathie Martin says, "Fewer people pay attention to it late on Friday. Fewer people pay attention when it's reported on Saturday.")

That is not exactly rocket science, but there you have it: That's what the powerful aides to the most powerful people in the world spend a lot of time thinking about. Or, say, going on Meet the Press to "control the message."

And what about this: A delicious fight between the president's office and the OVP (that's the vice president's office) about who got a better defense from the podium at the White House. As part of its defense (and don't ask me why), Team Libby decided to go after Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser. He appeared before the grand jury five times in this case and was not indicted. In any case, Libby's lawyers whine that the White House was out to protect Rove and throw Libby to the wolves.

"Scooter Libby was to be sacrificed," Ted Wells, Libby's attorney, told the jury. Rove, he said, "was the most responsible for seeing the Republican Party stayed in office. He had to be protected."

Libby even went to the vice president to complain, and Cheney clearly bought into the argument. Cheney's notes show that he wrote: "Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder."

Of course, this was no ordinary staff bickering. Libby and Rove were at the center of a White House defense of its decision to invade Iraq. Their rationale for war–the allegation that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction–had been publicly attacked. And the vice president was hopping mad about it. As the Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald pointed out: "The implication was someone was lying about justification for going to war. The defendant took note.The vice president took note."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Until next week, when the president's former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, comes to testify about how he leaked to the press to defend the White House. Of course, Fleischer has immunity–and Libby does not.