Prosecutors attack Libby’s credibility
WASHINGTON (AP) — Prosecutors told jurors in the CIA leak case Tuesday that former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s story was too incredible to be believed.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. Libby told authorities that he learned about Plame from Cheney, forgot about it, then learned it again a month later from NBC reporter Tim Russert.
In closing arguments of the monthlong trial, prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said it’s hard to believe that Libby would forget about Plame since he was eagerly trying to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had accused the Bush administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.
“It’s simply not credible to believe he would forget this information about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg said. “It’s ludicrous.”
On a TV screen, Zeidenberg displayed a flow chart showing the faces of several Bush administration officials who testified to telling Libby about Plame. From Libby, Zeidenberg drew arrows to people who said Libby talked to them about Plame.
“Is it conceivable that all these witnesses would make the same mistake, the same error in their memory?” Zeidenberg said.
Prosecutors believe Libby feared being fired and prosecuted for discussing official government information about Plame with reporters.
“He had to come up with a story that was innocuous,” Zeidenberg said.
So, Zeidenberg said, Libby concocted a story about learning it from Russert rather than Cheney. Russert says that conversation never happened. For that to be believed, Zeidenberg said, Libby had to forget nine conversations about Plame and invent two others.
“That’s not a matter of misremembering or forgetting,” Zeidenberg said. “It’s lying.”
Zeidenberg also rejected the idea that Libby was made a scapegoat by the White House to protect Karl Rove, Bush’s top political strategist. It was just one aspect of a broad defense strategy, but Zeidenberg seized on it almost at the onset of his closing.
“Did you hear any evidence about a conspiracy, a White House conspiracy to scapegoat Mr. Libby?” Zeidenberg asked. “If you think back and draw blank, I suggest to you ladies and gentlemen, it’s not a problem with your memory. It’s because there was no such evidence.”
Zeidenberg talked for about an hour and 45 minutes. Defense attorney Theodore Wells was scheduled to close for about three hours later Tuesday. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was to be given time to rebut before court breaks for the day. Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday.
In his closing, Wells was expected to highlight the numerous inconsistencies and memory problems in the government’s case. Some of those are material to the case. Others aren’t. But Wells was expected to argue that because everyone’s memory is so unreliable, it’s reasonable to believe that Libby – swamped with national security issues at the time – had memory problems, too.
Wells also was expected to touch on the idea that Libby was being made a scapegoat for Rove. Wells has described how White House spokesman Scott McClellan publicly declared Rove’s innocence in the leak case but failed to do so for Libby. Angered, Libby appealed to Cheney, who intervened and had McClellan exonerate Libby, too.
Fitzgerald says Libby felt guilty about discussing Plame with reporters and was trying to cover his tracks. The Rove theory allows defense attorneys to say that Libby felt wronged by the White House and was acting as an innocent man trying to clear his name.