The Case Against Libby
His Word vs. That of Reporters and Officials
Saturday, October 29, 2005
If this were a theater of war, the obstruction-of-justice case against I. Lewis Libby could be described as a pincer movement.
From one direction comes the testimony of three reporters whose accounts differ significantly from the word of Libby, who resigned yesterday as Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. From the other direction comes testimony from half a dozen Bush administration officials whose accounts also contradict his sworn statements.
In the center is Libby himself, along with the stack of statements that prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald intends to use against him. A number of experienced lawyers said yesterday that the case, with its multiple witnesses, appears strong.
"It's going to be very difficult for Libby to defend himself here," said former CIA inspector general Jeffrey H. Smith.
Perjury charges against public officials can be difficult to prove because of tangled recollections and inevitable shadings of meaning. But former federal prosecutor Daniel Richman said Libby will have trouble making the traditional argument that the case is just a simple misunderstanding.
"By driving home these points through multiple counts, I think Fitzgerald is making clear from the get-go that this is not likely to be a case where that sort of defense goes very far," said Richman, now a Fordham University law professor.
Libby's attorney, Joseph A. Tate, predicted yesterday that his client will be exonerated.
Fitzgerald set out nearly two years ago to learn who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to try to discredit her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration. The prosecutor did not answer that question yesterday, nor did he charge Libby or anyone else with the leak.
Taking reporters' questions, Fitzgerald declined to discuss his findings on the broader questions. He noted the complexity of federal laws prohibiting the outing of covert officers and said Libby prevented a full assessment because of his allegedly misleading statements. He likened Libby's actions to throwing sand in an umpire's eyes.
Fitzgerald said yesterday that his investigation was not over. Attention in recent weeks also has focused on presidential strategist Karl Rove, who changed his initial grand jury testimony and could still face charges.
But the five-count Libby indictment, at least, asserts no conspiracy, focusing instead on what Libby said when questioned.
"It's always the coverup," said Eric H. Holder Jr., deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "You use whatever tools you have if you're a prosecutor to get at the underlying conduct."