CIA Leak Trial Jury in Deliberations

Jurors Consider If Libby Lied or Had a Spotty Memory


Feb. 21, 2007 — -- A jury of eight women and four men went into deliberations in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Wednesday morning. Libby is charged with obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how he learned about CIA officer Valerie Wilson.

Judge Reggie Walton told the jury members that they must be unanimous in their decision. Walton explained the charges the government has alleged in the case, as well as the definition of reasonable doubt, telling them, "If you cannot say you are firmly convinced by the evidence, you have a reasonable doubt."

The jury is considering five charges against Libby: one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements to the FBI, and two counts of perjury.

Valerie Wilson's CIA employment was published by columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, days after her husband criticized the Bush administration's use of intelligence leading to the war in Iraq.

A criminal investigation began in September 2003 to determine if the leaking of her CIA job was a crime. The charges against Libby don't include leaking Wilson's identity, but allegedly lying about how he learned about her CIA employment. Prosecutors charged Libby, the only person indicted in the leak investigation, on October 28, 2005, for allegedly lying to investigators and a federal grand jury that he was told about Wilson's CIA employment by Tim Russert of NBC News.

In closing arguments of the month-long trial, prosecutors said Libby knowingly lied during the investigation because he feared criminal charges and losing his job.

The defense argued that a Libby conviction would be unfair, citing the spotty memories of those who took the witness stand and casting doubt on the prosecution's case that Libby lied.

Squaring off against the defense one final time in the trial, deputy special counsel Peter Zeidenberg portrayed Libby as consumed with finding out as much as he could about Valerie Wilson's husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who openly criticized the Bush administration for using faulty prewar intelligence leading into the war in Iraq.

"It's simply not credible to believe he would forget this information about Wilson's wife," Zeidenberg said. "It's ludicrous."

Using a flow chart, Zeidenberg illustrated the line of Bush administration officials who testified to disclosing Wilson's identity to Libby and others, like then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who said they'd learned Wilson's identity from Libby.

Zeidenberg detailed Libby's conversations with nine individuals, including Vice President Cheney, as well as senior CIA and State Department officials, about Wilson, and charges that Libby lied to the FBI and a federal grand jury when he said that he first learned her identity from Russert.

Zeidenberg told the jury, "Consider how amazingly sharp and clear that is. ... He can remember a conversation with Karl Rove, but he can't remember one out of nine other conversations he had because it was a trivial matter."

The prosecution also played several sections of Libby's grand jury testimony about his conversations with Russert, where he allegedly committed perjury.

Zeidenberg said of Libby, "This is the story he came up with, and he had to maintain that."

The defense attempted to dismiss the core of the government's case by questioning Russert's credibility.

Libby defense attorney Theodore Wells focused on a stipulation the government agreed to concerning a Nov. 24, 2003, report by FBI agent Jack Eckenrode, which noted, "Russert does not recall stating to Mr. Libby anything about the wife ... although he could not rule out the possibility he had such an exchange. ... Russert was at a loss to remember it."

Wells then focused on what reasonable doubt means for the jury. "If you believe Mr. Russert beyond a reasonable doubt, my client's life will be destroyed. ... That stipulation is a reasonable doubt."

Wells called Libby's conversations with government officials "background" and asked the jury to consider that the government has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defense ended their closing argument noting that Libby had "one of the highest stress jobs in the country," referencing the time period in 2003 when Libby was preoccupied with national security intelligence.

Wells became passionate and emotional, almost in tears in his closing, asking the jury to be fair to Libby. "This is a man with a wife and two kids. ... I gave him to you, just give him back to me."

In his rebuttal, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald discredited the defense argument that Libby didn't consider Wilson or his wife important by referencing separate notes Libby exchanged with a CIA briefer and Cheney that indicated otherwise.

Fitzgerald used a clipping of Wilson's New York Times op-ed on which Cheney wrote a handwritten note on to show that Libby thought it was an important issue. "His boss thought it was important," Fitzgerald said.

In his impassioned closing, Fitzgerald said of Libby, "There is no conspiracy ... no memory problem ... he had a motive to lie.

"He made up a story and he stuck to it. Aren't the FBI, the grand jury and the American people entitled to an explanation?" Fitzgerald asked the jury.

Fitzgerald closed, saying, "[Libby] obstructed justice. He took the truth from the judicial system."

During their deliberations the jury will have all of the evidence with them in their jury room except audio of Libby's grand jury testimony played during the trial. The jury can make a request to the judge to hear the audio. If convicted on all charges, Libby could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.2 million in fines.

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