Libby Found Guilty in CIA Leak Case
By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 6, 2007; 5:08 PM
A federal jury today convicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, finding the vice president's former chief of staff guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, while acquitting him of a single count of lying to the FBI.
The verdict, reached by the 11 jurors on the 10th day of deliberations, culminated the seven-week trial of the highest-ranking White House official to be indicted on criminal charges in modern times.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Libby faces a probable prison term of 1 1/2 to three years when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton June 5.
As the jury forewoman read each guilty count in a clear, solemn voice, Libby was impassive, remaining seated at the defense table, gazing straight ahead and displaying no visible emotion. His wife, Harriet Grant, sat in the front row with tears in her eyes and was embraced by friends. Later she hugged each of Libby's lawyers.
A few minutes after the jury was dismissed, Libby appeared coatless in the cold sunshine outside the federal courthouse with his two main lawyers, Theodore V. Wells Jr. and William Jeffress Jr. Wells issued a brief statement to the crush of reporters and television crews.
"We are very disappointed in the verdict of the jurors," Wells said. "We intend to file a motion for a new trial. And if that is denied, we will appeal the conviction, and we have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated. We believe . . . that he is totally innocent -- totally innocent -- and that he did not do anything wrong, and we intend to keep fighting to establish his innocence."
Libby and his lawyers then briskly turned away and returned to the courthouse without taking questions.
In a 14-minute news conference that followed, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said prosecutors were "gratified by the jury's verdict today."
Asked about the defense's vow to seek a new trial, Fitzgerald said prosecutors would "not be happy" about retrying the case. "We think it was a fair trial. We think the verdict should stand."
Fitzgerald said he did not "expect to file any further charges," although he held open the possibility that "if new information comes to light that warrants taking further action, we will do that."
He said he would not predict what sentence prosecutors will now recommend for Libby.
One juror, Denis Collins, said there was little doubt from the weight of the evidence that Libby could not have forgotten how he learned the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.
"It just seemed very unlikely he would have forgotten that. There were just so many things," Collins said. "That he could remember that fact on a Tuesday and forget it on a Thursday . . . didn't make sense."
Collins said jurors spent the entire first week of deliberations cataloguing each piece of evidence and statements on oversize Post-It notes, which he described as the "building blocks" for their decision.
Collins said jurors never came to a decision about whether Vice President Cheney ordered Libby to leak information. He said the jurors had "enormous sympathy" for Libby.
In a statement issued by the White House, Cheney later said he was "very disappointed with the verdict" and "saddened for Scooter and his family." He praised Libby as having served "tirelessly and with great distinction" in government for many years.
"Since his legal team has announced that he is seeking a new trial and, if necessary, pursuing an appeal, I plan to have no further comment on the merits of this matter until these proceedings are concluded," Cheney said.
Earlier, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino issued a similar statement, saying that President Bush saw news of the verdict on television and was also "saddened" for Libby. She said Bush would continue to withhold comment because there is still "an ongoing criminal proceeding" in view of the defense's plan to seek a new trial or appeal the verdict.
Perino declined to address the prospect of a presidential pardon, calling that "a wildly hypothetical situation at this time."
Libby, 56, was the only person charged in a three-year federal investigation that reached the highest echelons of the Bush White House. The central question in the probe was whether anyone in the administration illegally disclosed classified information during the late spring and early summer of 2003, when they told several journalists that an early critic of the Iraq war was married to Plame.
No one was ever charged with the leak, but the results of the investigation, led by Fitzgerald, ultimately tarnished both the administration and the Washington press corps.
The trial revolved around whether Libby deliberately lied about--or simply was too busy toremember correctly--several conversations he had about Plame with colleagues and reporters whenhe was questioned months later by FBI agents and a federal grand jury investigating the leak.
Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was sent by the CIA on a mission to Niger in 2002 to assess reports that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear materials there. He concluded the reports were false. In early July, 2003, Wilson published a rebuke of the White House, accusing the administration of distorting his findings to exaggerate the danger posed by Iraq and justify the war to the American people.
Prosecutors contended that Libby tracked down and told reporters about Plame's CIA job as part of an administration strategy to discredit her husband by insinuating that the agency had dispatched Wilson to Niger because of nepotism. The prosecution alleged that Libby realized afterwards that he might have relayed classified information and lied to FBI agents and grand jurors to cover that up.
Defense attorneys countered that Libby had a notoriously bad memory and, consumed by his work on sensitive national security matters, did not recall accurately what he knew and said about Plame. The defense also asserted that Libby did not have a motive to lie because he did not know Plame's job was classified.
The weeks of testimony and evidence placed a microscope on Libby's actions during a tumultuous period inside the White House shortly after the Iraq war began, casting a harsh light on the way power and information flows in Washington.
The trial highlighted the nation's divisions over the war, the Bush White House's intolerance of critics and the uneasy symbiosis between an elite tier of Washington journalists and their confidential sources inside the government.
It also exposed rifts between the White House and the CIA and laid bare rivalries within the White House itself. Relying on testimony from current and former White House officials and hand-written notes by Cheney, Libby and their co-workers, the prosecution showed resentments among the vice president's office; Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser; and White House press secretaries.
It also portrayed Cheney as more intimately involved in orchestrating the campaign to disparage Wilson than was previously known. Cheney was motivated in part by Wilson's erroneous allegation that the CIA had undertaken the mission to Africa solely at the vice president's request.
Testimony and evidence revealed that the vice president dictated precise talking points he wanted Libby and other aides to use to rebut Wilson's accusations against the White House, helped select which journalists would be contacted and worked with Bush to declassify secret intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons that he believed would contradict Wilson's claims.
"There is a cloud over what the vice president did," Fitzgerald told jurors in the prosecution's closing arguments. "That's not something we put there. That cloud is not something you can pretend is not there."
The case also broke controversial new ground when prosecutors forced journalists to cooperate in a criminal probe. After a long history of leak investigations that had foundered out of reluctance to subpoena reporters in order to get to their sources, Fitzgerald compelled prominent reporters to abandon promises of confidentiality they had made to high-ranking administration officials.
Several news organizations, including The Washington Post, negotiated limits that allowed Fitzgerald to question reporters on specific matters once their sources had waived confidentiality. But one journalist, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, went to jail for 85 days in an attempt to avoid disclosing the identities of Libby and other sources to investigators. Her protest went to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear her case. Miller ultimately appeared before the grand jury and at the trial.
By the trial's end, journalists, all but one of whom testified about once-confidential interviews, accounted for 10 of the 19 witnesses to appear at the trial. . Seven of the nine defense witnesses were journalists, including Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who was the first journalist to disclose Plame's identity in print. Three of the government's 10 witnesses were reporters.
For all the journalistic star power and political intrigue on display in recent weeks in Courtroom 16 of the federal courthouse in downtown Washington, the case Fitzgerald presented to the jury was methodical and, at times, dry.
The prosecution's case hinged on establishing that Libby had lied deliberately to investigators--in part by showing that the memory lapses alleged by the defense were implausible. In particular, the prosecution chipped away at Libby's statement to investigators that he thought he heard about Plame for the first time on July 10, 2003 from Tim Russert, NBC News' Washington bureau chief. Only later, Libby told investigators, did he remember that Cheney actually had told him about Plame nearly a month earlier.
"This is not a case about bad memory," Fitzgerald told the jury during opening statements last month "It was important. . . . He made time to deal with the Wilson matter day after day after day."
Fitzgerald and fellow prosecutors showed notes hand-written by Cheney and Libby indicating that the vice president was deeply disturbed by Wilson's explosive accusations that the White House had used bogus intelligence to justify the war. Witnesses and evidence showed Cheney orchestrating a point-by-point response to Wilson's claims -- some of it misleading -- that the administration gave to hand-picked reporters.
Prosecutors called current and former administration officials who testified to a series of steps Libby took to learn about Wilson and Plame. Two of them told jurors that Libby had called them during the spring of 2003, sounding agitated and demanding information about why Wilson was chosen by the CIA for the Niger mission.
Prosecutors then took the jury through Libby's disclosures about Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified that, on July 7, 2003, Libby took him to lunch in the White House mess. After discussing the Miami Dolphins and Fleischer's pending move to a private-sector job, Fleischer said, Libby told him, "hush-hush," that Wilson's wife worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division and had sent her husband to Niger.
Miller, the former New York Times reporter, testified that Libby became the first person to tell her about Plame, during a meeting in his office that June 23. Matthew Cooper, a former Time magazine White House reporter, testified that Libby confirmed to him off-the-record that Plame worked at the CIA, shortly after Cooper had been told of her by Rove.
Finally, the prosecution highlighted discrepancies between the accounts of the government witnesses and Libby's statements to investigators. The jury listened to eight hours of audiotapes of Libby's testimony during two appearances before the grand jury in March, 2004.
The government's final witness, Russert, was the most pivotal. A well-known face from television, Russert firmly contradicted Libby's statements to investigators that Russert had told him about Plame. Russert testified that Libby had called him on July 10, 2003 to complain about comments that Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC show, "Hardball," made about Cheney and Libby. Russert testified he did not mention Plame during that conversation.
"That would be impossible," he said, "because I didn't know who that person was until several days later."
The defense put on a case that lasted less than three days.
Wells, Libby's lead attorney, did not explain why he and other defense attorneys decided not to call Libby and Cheney as witnesses. But by keeping them off the stand, the defense spared the two men cross-examination by Fitzgerald.
Instead, the defense relied on a surrogate, John Hannah, to convey to the jury some of the points the defendant and the vice president probably would have made. Hannah, one of Libby's deputies for national security affairs and now Cheney's national security adviser, recounted for jurors crises in Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, North Korea and elsewhere in the world that preoccupied Libby about the time of the leak and during the months afterwards.
Hannah testified that "on certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory." Hannah said that, "times too many to count," he gave Libby policy recommendations in the morning and, by evening, Libby forgot that Hannah had been the source of the advice.
Libby's lawyers also suggested the prosecution overstated Libby's zeal to tell journalists about Plame. A half-dozen journalists, including three from The Washington Post, testified that they had spoken with Libby about the time of the leak, but that he did not mention her to them.
In large part, Libby's defense consisted of trying to erode the credibility of prosecution witnesses, often by pointing up the fallibility of their own memories.
The defense case did not, however, address the most dramatic assertion Wells made when the trial began. In his opening statement, Libby's attorney said Cheney had complained that his chief of staff was "put through the meatgrinder" by other White House officials, who were willing to make Libby a scapegoat when the leak investigation began in order to insulate Rove. The defense did not present witnesses or evidence to corroborate that point.
In his closing argument, Wells said the trial turned the courtroom into "a laboratory on recollection," contending that it was "madness" for prosecutors to argue that Libby's faulty recollections amounted to criminal conduct. Libby's conversations about Wilson and Plame, his attorneys insisted, were tangential compared with what was happening inside the White House early the summer of 2003.
"The country was saying, 'Hey, you lied to the American public.' I mean, you talk about a stressful period," Wells said. "The wheels are falling off the Bush administration. . . . It's a crazy period."
Months later, when Libby spoke to investigators, Wells told the jury, "If what he said turned out to be incorrect or a mistake, that doesn't mean he's a liar."