Libby Trial Offers Little on Rove Theory

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 15, 2007; 4:45 PM

WASHINGTON -- Attorneys for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told jurors at the onset of the CIA leak trial last month that Libby was the victim of a conspiracy to protect White House political adviser Karl Rove. But like the anticipated testimony from Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney, details of any save-Rove conspiracy were promised but never materialized.

That leaves defense attorneys, who will spend the long weekend fine-tuning their closing arguments, to decide how to describe Rove for jurors when summing up their case on Tuesday.

Libby is charged with lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Plame's name was leaked to the press as part of White House effort to discredit her husband, prominent war critic and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

During opening statements, defense attorney Theodore Wells described a different White House effort: one in which Rove, Bush's top political strategist, was protected for leaking information while Libby took the fall.

"Libby was an important staffer," Wells said. "But Karl Rove was the lifeblood of the Republican Party."

As evidence, Wells 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.

"Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others," Cheney wrote in a note.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Libby felt guilty about discussing Plame with reporters and was trying to cover his tracks by lying to the FBI and to a grand jury investigating the leak. The Rove theory allows defense attorneys to say Libby felt wronged by the White House and was acting as an innocent man trying to clear his name.

But Libby's attorneys never dug deeper than that during the trial. While cross-examining government witnesses, they took every opportunity to mention Rove but never elicited details about how the president's top political operative was being protected or why.

Libby lawyers also opted not to call Cheney, McClellan or White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett to testify about whether Libby was being made a scapegoat.

The most explicit testimony on Rove came from columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame in a July 2003 column. He testified that Rove, a frequent source, was one of two officials who told him about Plame. Libby, with whom he seldom spoke, was not a source.

The jury did not hear testimony that Rove was not indicted after testifying five times before Fitzgerald's grand jury, occasionally correcting misstatements he made in his earlier testimony.

Nor did the jury hear testimony about how Rove is credited as an architect of Republican political victories and has been accused by opponents of playing dirty tricks.

All that jurors heard is that Rove leaked Plame's identity and, from the outset, got political cover from the White House. He was never charged with a crime.

His name came up sporadically in handwritten memos and testimony. He was clearly cast as an important White House aide but his job was never fully explained. His influence was never clearly defined, only hinted at.

© 2007 The Associated Press