Where’s Dick Cheney?

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the CIA leak is still under way even though he has indicted “Scooter” Libby on five charges for which the now-former top aide to Vice President Cheney faces five years in prison and fines of $1.25 million.

That’s such nonsense. Oh, technically he may have fibbed to the FBI by blaming a bunch of reporters as the source of information about a CIA agent’s identity. This hardly seems a crime. People blame reporters all the time. Just ask an editor.

A theory gaining credence here is that Fitzgerald has bigger fish to fry. If Libby goes to trial, the prosecutor, according to one news account, will “call some of the most senior officials in government, like the vice president, to the stand.”

And why the vice president? To see who _ or what _ shows up. Fitzgerald _ and this is only a theory, mind you _ is sweating Libby, the vice president’s shadow and alter ego, to answer a far more serious allegation: What have you done with Dick Cheney? Where is he? Is he being held incommunicado somewhere? Or worse?

Libby was always at Cheney’s side, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. A dedicated public servant or something more sinister? Cheney was never seen without Libby. But think of it: When was the last time you saw Dick Cheney?

Early in the Bush administration, the vice president became famously reclusive and silent, ostensibly for security reasons, but when the threat blew over he remained out of sight, taciturn and sullen in his few public sightings.

People who knew him in his years as a congressman, President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, and defense secretary in the Bush I administration don’t remember him that way. One who knew him well was Bush I’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, but Scowcroft told a magazine not too long ago:

“The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend _ I’ve known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.” Maybe because _ it’s not Dick Cheney!

What if the real Cheney went into his undisclosed secure location at Raven Rock Mountain, Pa., and someone else came out?

Sure, someone named Dick Cheney gives speeches to select Republican audiences, but Cheney’s appearance is a common physical type _ a stout, bespectacled, balding, white man. Washington is overrun with them. They even have their own trade association. It’s called Congress.

Republicans will believe anything the Bush II administration tells them, and if they’re told that the generic Babbitt speaking to them is Cheney, well, fine, it’s Cheney. And, let’s face it, aside from Condoleezza Rice and maybe Don Rumsfeld, most people couldn’t pick the Bush Cabinet out of a police lineup.

Profiles of Libby following his indictment stressed how much time the aide and his boss spent together. When Cheney vacationed in Wyoming, Libby went along, and most tellingly, the two would ride to work together most mornings.

Libby lives way out in suburban McLean, Va., and Cheney in town in the vice president’s mansion. It couldn’t have been too terribly convenient for Libby, but it meant the two could get into the motorcade out of sight of the curious and debark out of sight on the White House grounds. Maybe that was Cheney who Libby was picking up, maybe not.

So won’t this whole question be answered now that Libby has been forced to resign? Not necessarily. He has been replaced by two loyalists notorious for their secrecy, anonymity and bureaucratic bunker mentality.

Libby is often described as Cheney’s Cheney. Maybe he isn’t Cheney’s Cheney. Maybe he’s Cheney.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)