Prosecution Rests Case In Libby's Perjury Trial
Friday, February 9, 2007
Prosecutors rested their case yesterday in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, completing a methodical portrait of a top-tier presidential aide who they say diligently scrambled to defend the White House against an early critic of the Iraq war and then lied to investigators about what he had done.
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald concluded the prosecution's portion of the trial after 11 days in which he laid out for jurors a chronological narrative -- of a volatile period inside in the White House in 2003 -- that was sometimes dry but provided tantalizing glimpses into the worlds of President Bush's closest advisers and an elite tier of Washington journalists.
The prosecution first demonstrated the steps Libby allegedly took to find out the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer married to a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson accused the White House of twisting intelligence he had gathered as it justified the invasion of Iraq.
Fitzgerald then led jurors through the sequence of journalists and a White House press secretary Libby allegedly told about Plame in an effort, the prosecutor alleges, to discredit her husband by suggesting Wilson was sent on the CIA-sponsored mission as a result of nepotism.
Finally, the prosecutor -- relying on an FBI agent, eight hours of audiotapes of Libby testifying before a federal grand jury, and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert -- laid out the fabrications the government contends Libby told about his role in the leak.
On Monday, defense attorneys are scheduled to begin presenting their case, which will try to cast a more flattering light on Libby's statements and behavior. The defense has said it plans to begin by calling as witnesses several journalists, including some from The Washington Post, in part to show that Libby did not mention Plame to every reporter with whom he spoke early in the summer of 2003, around the time of the CIA leak.
The prosecution rested after one of Libby's attorneys spent hours yesterday hammering the ethics, memory and motives of Russert, potentially the government's most damaging witness. As the grand finale in the prosecution's effort to prove that the vice president's former chief of staff lied to investigators about his role in the leak, Russert told jurors it was "impossible" that he had disclosed Plame's identity to Libby, as Libby told FBI agents and a federal grand jury.
To try to undermine his testimony, defense attorney Theodore Wells Jr. suggested that Russert harbored personal animosity for Libby and was "elated" when he was indicted in 2005.
On the witness stand for more than five hours of pointed cross-examination over two days, Russert said that he took no joy in Libby's fate and that, on the morning of Oct. 28, 2005, he had been keyed up only because a major news story on the indictments was to unfold within hours. But Wells implied to the jury that Russert had darker motives.
The defense played in court snippets of radio personality Don Imus's interview of Russert that morning. Russert, the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," spoke in giddy tones that contrasted markedly with his sober, careful style in court.
"It was like Christmas Eve here last night," Russert told Imus about his newsroom's anticipation of the results of the federal investigation that Fitzgerald was about to announce. "Santa Claus is coming tomorrow. Surprises! What's going to be under the tree?"
Wells also read parts of a transcript from that same day's broadcast of the "Today" show, in which Russert explained to host Katie Couric the significance of possible indictments against Libby or President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, which newspapers were reporting that morning.