Defense lawyers in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial say Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff was merely a scapegoat for Karl Rove's role in revealing the identity of a former CIA officer.
Many say the leak was in retaliation for the agent's husband contradicting Bush's statements in Bush's State of the Union address four years ago.
Opening statements in Libby's perjury trial got under way this morning, pitting Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald against defense attorney Theodore Wells.
While Fitzgerald ticked off the government's allegations that Libby had lied to the FBI and grand jury, Wells told the jury that divisions among the White House; Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist; and the office of the vice president were the central part of Libby's defense.
"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Wells told the jury, recounting a conversation Libby had with the White House. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected."
A leak investigation began in 2003, after syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed that a chief Bush administration critic, Joseph Wilson, was married to CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Wilson had written a New York Times column rebutting the president's claims that Iraq was actively trying to obtain uranium.
Revealing the identity of a CIA officer is a crime. Rove was one of two sources for Novak's story.
No one, including Rove, has been charged with the leak, but Libby is accused of lying to investigators and obstructing the probe into the leak.
Fitzgerald has painted the backdrop of a political scandal as the motivation for Libby's lying.
"Wilson made an explosive charge. … He had launched an attack against the White House," Fitzgerald said. "The White House pushed back."
In laying out the timeline for the jury, Fitzgerald went back to the 2003 State of the Union address and proceeded to Libby's final grand jury testimony.
Libby did more than just not remember the facts or events correctly, Fitzgerald said. He was consumed with the Wilson affair, going to such great lengths as pulling CIA officers out of meetings to get information about Wilson.
Fitzgerald detailed how Libby had worked on the Wilson affair and, when it turned into a serious criminal investigation, allegedly lied.
On June 11, 2003, Libby called the CIA late in the afternoon and requested that Iraq issues manager Robert Grenier be pulled from a meeting to talk with him about the Wilson matter.
Libby also called Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper from a small office at Andrews Air Force Base as he returned from a trip with Cheney on July 11.
"The defendant obstructed the truth, lied to the FBI, and obstructed justice," Fitzgerald said.
But Wells told the jury that Libby had done nothing wrong and was instead set up as a scapegoat by forces in the White House.
"It's ironic that President Bush is giving the State of the Union address tonight almost four years to the day," Wells said in his opening statement.
It was other administration officials, not Libby, who were talking about Plame and her employment at the CIA.
One note from Cheney that the defense attorney presented read: "Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."