WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 — Paradox seems to define I. Lewis Libby Jr., who remains a bit mysterious even to close colleagues. He is the White House policy enforcer who also wrote a literary novel; a buttoned-down Washington lawyer who likes knocking back tequila shots in cowboy bars and hurtling down mountains on skis and bikes; and a 56-year-old intellectual known to all by his childhood nickname, Scooter.
But now comes the most baffling paradox of all, as Mr. Libby, former chief of staff and alter ego to Vice President Dick Cheney, began his trial in federal court here on Tuesday on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. By all accounts a first-rate legal mind and a hypercautious aide whose discretion frustrated reporters, he is charged with repeatedly lying to a grand jury and to the F.B.I. about his leaks to the news media in the battle over Iraq war intelligence.
“I don’t often use the word ‘incomprehensible,’ but this is incomprehensible to me,” said Dennis Ross, the veteran Middle East troubleshooter who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He’s a lawyer who’s as professional and competent as anyone I know. He’s a friend, and when he says he’s innocent, I believe him. I just can’t account for this case.”
Among Mr. Libby’s friends and former colleagues, the case brought by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, is considered not only unjust, but also a terrible irony.
By SCOTT SHANE