The chief spokesman for Vice President Dick Cheney, Steve Schmidt, left the United States Oct. 3 and won't return until Oct. 26, just as the investigation into who outed a covert CIA agent wraps up, RAW STORY has confirmed.
Schmidt has left for Iraq. A RAW STORY email sent to Schmidt's private White House address Tuesday yielded this reply: "I will be out of the country from October 3rd through October 26th and will have VERY limited email access. For assistance, please contact Jon Berrier at 202-XXX-XXXX. Thank you."
Time Magazine recently described him as "one of the White House's most aggressive strategists." Officials told the magazine in a largely unnoticed piece last week Schmidt planned to fly to Iraq to shore up the communications team there, and said he was sent at the request of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad. Reporter Mike Allen said the trip "is supported at the highest levels of the White House."
Schmidt's departure coincides with the final days of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald's grand jury ends its session Oct. 28.
Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, has been named as a subject of the investigation. New York Times reporter Judith Miller recently named Libby as her confidential source. She spent 85 days in prison after refusing to identify who spoke to her about the case.
Schmidt was not at the White House when Plame was outed. He has declined to comment for Libby in the case, deferring comment from the White House to Libby's lawyer.
The Vice President was noticeably absent from the fiftieth anniversary party last Thursday for the conservative standardbearer The National Review.
Senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, also fingered in the case, has been absent from recent public events, including the nomination of Hariet Miers to the Supreme Court. RAW STORYconfirmed Rove's absence Oct. 9.
Those close to the investigation believe key White House figures may be deliberately keeping a low profile to create some distance between them and the president should any member of his team be indicted.
Before working for the Vice President, Schmidt was a major player in the 2004 presidential campaign. It was Schmidt who went off the record to deny Ken Mehlman was gay, and who aggressively sought to crush reports -- including those by RAW STORY -- from entering the mainstream press during last year's Republican National Convention when the story broke.
Correction: The initial version of this story incorrectly stated the date the Grand Jury term ends. The final day the jury is empaneled is Oct. 28.