Jurors then listened intently as Mr. Libby is heard on tape testifying that he first learned about Ms. Wilson in a conversation with Tim Russert of NBC on Thursday, July 10. Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he was taken aback by the news.Libby a Scapegoat, His Lawyer Tells Jurors
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — The chief defense lawyer for I. Lewis Libby Jr. told a jury today that his client was innocent of perjury and obstruction of justice charges and that White House officials had sought to make him a scapegoat in the investigation of the leak of a C.I.A. operative’s name to protect Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff.
In his opening statement, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said that the unnamed White House officials wanted to protect Mr. Rove because they believed his survival as President Bush’s political adviser was crucial to saving the Republican Party.
“Scooter Libby was to be sacrificed,” Mr. Wells told the jury on the trial’s first day, using the nickname of Mr. Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. It was important to keep Mr. Rove out of trouble because, Mr. Wells said, he was the “lifeblood” of the president’s political operation and “was most responsible for seeing the Republican Party stayed in office. He had to be protected.”
Mr. Rove, who has not been charged, has acknowledged having been one of the sources for a July 14 column by Robert Novak that first disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.
Mr. Wells’s remarks followed the opening statement of the chief prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who told the jury that the evidence was clear that Mr. Libby knowingly lied under oath about his conversations with three reporters about Ms. Plame, who is also known by her married name, Valerie Wilson.
Mr. Fitzgerald used charts to demonstrate that Mr. Libby had several conversations with various administration officials in June and July of 2003 in which he learned that Ms. Wilson was the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who had made a trip to Africa to check on reports that Iraq had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons.
Mr. Fitzgerald had his own dramatic moment of the day: he played the audio tapes of Mr. Libby’s testimony on two occasions before a grand jury.
But before doing so, he meticulously laid the groundwork. He offered charts showing that Mr. Libby interviewed several fellow administration officials about Ms. Wilson in June, and early July 2003, and that he also talked to reporters and other administration officials about her identity in that same time period.
Jurors then listened intently as Mr. Libby is heard on tape testifying that he first learned about Ms. Wilson in a conversation with Tim Russert of NBC on Thursday, July 10. Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he was taken aback by the news.
“You can’t be startled about something on Thursday that you told other people about on Monday and Tuesday,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Further, he said, Mr. Russert will testify that his July 10 telephone conversation with Mr. Libby did not include any mention of Ms. Wilson. Mr. Libby had called instead to complain about a talk show on the network.
“The evidence will show the conversation he claims took place about Wilson’s wife never happened,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “And even if it did happen he couldn’t have been surprised.”
Mr. Libby is charged with five felony accounts for lying to the grand jury on two occasions and also to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were investigating the leak of Ms. Plame’s name to Mr. Novak.
Mr. Wells, Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, said that the charges against Mr. Libby amount to “a weak, paper-thin circumstantial case about ‘he said-she said’.”
Mr. Wells said that Mr. Libby complained to Mr. Cheney that he was being made to be the fall guy and the vice president wrote a note that read:
“Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.”
He explained that Mr. Cheney’s note referred to the fact that the C.I.A. had allowed the White House to use inaccurate information in Mr. Bush’s state of the union speech about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium in Africa.
Mr. Libby was then assigned to deal with reporters to straighten out the issue.
Mr. Wells did not make it clear exactly how purported efforts to shield Mr. Rove caused Mr. Libby to become embroiled in the issue, but for suggesting that the attention paid to the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s name obliged Mr. Libby to begin to engage reporters,