Libby trial testimony ends with short defense
WASHINGTON – Once expected to rival the courtroom dramas of Watergate and Iran-Contra, the trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby neared a quick, unsensational close Wednesday.Libby’s attorneys rested a truncated defense after the judge barred much of their classified evidence because Libby decided not to testify in his perjury trial. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wrapped up the government’s rebuttal in minutes.On Tuesday, the jury will return to hear closing arguments over whether the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney lied to the FBI and a grand jury about whether he leaked to reporters in 2003 that Valerie Plame, the wife of prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA.The trial fell well short of the Watergate and Iran-Contra trials that riveted the nation’s attention. Defense attorneys decided not to call the two biggest witnesses they had dangled in pretrial proceedings: Libby and his former boss Cheney.In 14 days of testimony, the trial never filled an overflow courtroom, with a video hookup, to handle the crowds expected – particularly for the cross-examination of Libby and Cheney.Nevertheless, testimony showed that Cheney was intimately involved on a daily basis in July 2003 in rebutting Wilson’s allegations that President Bush had lied about intelligence to push the nation into war with Iraq.Cheney was described by his own aides as particularly upset that Wilson suggested the vice president knew one key justification – that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons – had been debunked by Wilson in 2002.The defense put in a handwritten note in which Cheney told the White House press secretary to exonerate Libby in the leak and not sacrifice him to protect Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove.The trial also brought top-level Washington reporters, including five Pulitzer Prize winners, and some of their usually unidentified government sources into the courtroom. The defense, with limited direct evidence to rebut the government’s case, used these witnesses to raise questions about the memory, techniques and ethics of reporters who had testified against Libby.In the process, they illuminated the interactions between top reporters and officials.The government case marched chronologically through the tumultuous spring and summer of 2003, when the administration was embarrassed that U.S. forces in Iraq had not found any of the weapons of mass destruction that Bush had used to justify the war.Fitzgerald’s goal was to render Libby’s statements to the FBI and the grand jury unbelievable.Libby acknowledged that he was first told of Plame’s CIA job by Cheney on June 12, 2003, but he claims that he forgot it amid the many national security issues he dealt with. Libby told investigators that he thought he was hearing about her job for the first time on July 10 from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert and thereafter only told reporters he had heard about the job from other journalists.Russert testified he and Libby never talked about Plame at all.An undersecretary of state, a CIA official and Cheney’s own top press aide all testified they told Libby about Plame’s job between June 11 and July 6. Another CIA official said Libby discussed her job with him before the Russert call.Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified that Libby told him about Plame’s job just three days before the Russert conversation.Then former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper testified Libby told them that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and had the idea for sending Wilson on a trip to Africa to investigate the uranium report. Wilson had suggested Cheney’s questions were the reason for his trip.Finally the prosecution called an FBI agent to testify about Libby’s denials of leaking and played eight hours of his grand jury testimony denying he leaked.The defense called six reporters who talked to Libby in that period but didn’t recall hearing anything about Plame from him. None, however, could recall specifically asking about her.They introduced evidence of memory flaws on the part of Miller and Russert, and questioned whether Russert had it in for Libby because the case got Russert subpoenaed to discuss confidential sources. One defense witness, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, testified Fleischer leaked Plame’s job to him, directly contradicting Fleischer’s denial of that under oath. An FBI agent recalled that Russert wasn’t able to completely rule out that he and Libby discussed Plame.But the defense had to settle for a pale shadow of what it had planned to show: how preoccupied Libby was with topics he considered more serious. In anticipation of his testimony, the judge had ruled that he could introduce sanitized descriptions of the many topics in his daily CIA briefing and a statement that he was “very concerned” about some of the topics.When Libby decided not to testify, Walton reversed course on Wednesday and barred almost all the classified evidence.”My absolute understanding was that Mr. Libby was going to testify,” Walton said. “My ruling was based on the fact that he was going to testify.”Fitzgerald said he too had agreed to tell jurors about the terrorist threats, war planning and other secret issues Libby faced only on the condition that he could cross-examine Libby on just how seriously he considered these threats. Fitzgerald said jurors didn’t have Libby’s experience in weighing how seriously to take many of the unreliable threat reports.Walton and Fitzgerald agreed that only Libby could testify that these issues overwhelmed the Plame information in his memory.So the defense settled for having Cheney’s current national security adviser, John Hannah, testify to Libby’s busy 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m workdays in 2003 while serving Cheney as both national security adviser and chief of staff. Hannah also said Libby often forget who told him something.And on Wednesday the jurors heard a list, without details, of 27 national security topics and 13 terrorist threats that were in Libby’s briefing book on June 14, 2003.—Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.