prosecutors scoffed at Mr. Libby’s claims of memory loss, contending that he was simply lying when he told the F.B.I. and grand jurors that he first learned about Ms. Wilson in July 2003, from reporters. In fact, prosecutors said, Mr. Libby learned of Ms. Wilson’s identity much earlier, and was telling various reporters about her.
Jury Begins Deliberating in C.I.A. Leak Case
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 – Jurors in the perjury trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff began deliberating today after the judge told them to look to their own lives when weighing the defendant’s claims of memory loss.
“An innocent misrecollection” is not a crime, Judge Reggie B. Walton told the panel of eight women and four men deciding the fate of I. Lewis Libby Jr., and it is “not an uncommon experience,” he said.
“Honest error,” the judge said, is “a complete defense against all the charges,” and if they conclude that Mr. Libby was simply mistaken when he talked to F.B.I. agents and testified to a grand jury, they must acquit, Judge Walton told the trial jurors.
But if they accept the prosecution’s contention that Mr. Libby deliberately misled investigators and grand jurors, they must find Mr. Libby guilty and not be swayed by sympathy or concerns about the punishment to be imposed on him, Judge Walton emphasized.
When deciding whether Mr. Libby indeed had a blurry memory, jurors should reflect “based on your life experiences,” Judge Walton told the panel.
Memory is at the core of the five felony charges against Mr. Libby. The government contends he lied to F.B.I. agents and grand jurors in an attempt to thwart an investigation into the leak of the name of a covert C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson, whose husband, the former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, had been extremely critical of the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war against Iraq.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors scoffed at Mr. Libby’s claims of memory loss, contending that he was simply lying when he told the F.B.I. and grand jurors that he first learned about Ms. Wilson in July 2003, from reporters. In fact, prosecutors said, Mr. Libby learned of Ms. Wilson’s identity much earlier, and was telling various reporters about her.
But defense lawyers said their client was much too busy to remember details of all the people he talked to in 2003 and early 2004, and they managed to show that some of Washington’s better known journalists have imperfect recollections of events months, or years, ago.
Judge Walton reminded the jurors not to hold against Mr. Libby his decision not to testify at the trial. It was his “absolute right” not to take the stand, the judge noted.
Nor, Judge Walton said, should the jurors consider the guilt or innocence of people who are not on trial. A paradox of the case is that no one has been charged with actually disclosing Mrs. Wilson’s name.
She was first identified publicly by the columnist Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003, and it has since been established that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, were the columnist’s sources.
The judge instructed the jurors that the testimony of a witness who has been granted immunity must be “received with caution and scrutinized with care.” That was a reference to Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokeswoman, who testified under an immunity deal with prosecutors, provided that he tell the truth.
Mr. Fleischer testified earlier that he first learned of Ms. Wilson’s identity from Mr. Libby and passed the information on to Walter Pincus, a reporter for The Washington Post who writes about national security and intelligence, just before Mr. Novak’s column appeared.
Although Judge Walton emphasized that the jurors must not worry about people who were not on trial, the Libby defense team surely would like the panel members to keep those considerations at least in the back of their minds.
“Every defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent,” Judge Walton reminded the jurors, and the burden of proving otherwise never shifts to the defendant. Nor is Mr. Libby required to prove that any misstatements he made were honest errors, the judge said. It is up to the prosecution to prove the contrary.
To convict, Judge Walton said, jurors must decide that the government proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” meaning a doubt based on reason and linked to “the evidence or lack of evidence.”
But the government need not prove its case beyond all doubt or to some “mathematical certainty,” the judge emphasized.