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A Nonpartisan Reputation at Stake

"He had to realize early on that the matter he was appointed to investigate was not a crime," said Thompson, who is a board member of a group raising legal funds for Libby. "He should have put his little papers in his briefcase and gone back to Chicago."

Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney who worked with Fitzgerald on the World Trade Center case, said the pressure on Fitzgerald is magnified because his investigation reached Bush and Cheney, both of whom were questioned. Opponents and supporters of Bush, the war and the investigation will be rooting for vindication in the verdict, she said.

"Any case that is as high-profile as this is important to win because of how it will be portrayed -- and misportrayed," White said. But she said that judges and defense lawyers consider Fitzgerald a straight shooter and that that will not change.

The trial has given Fitzgerald chances to show his well-known mastery of facts and his expertise at cross-examination.

When Libby's former deputy, John Hannah, testified for the defense on the overwhelming nature of Libby's job, Hannah said that at the time, Libby was monitoring al-Qaeda plots, the Iraq war and other national security threats.

Hannah, who said he was lucky to get a few minutes to talk to Libby, was supposed to help buttress Libby's argument that he had more important things to remember when he spoke to investigators than conversations with reporters.

With two quick questions, Fitzgerald drew Hannah to the week of July 6, 2003, when, the jurors had been told, Libby met for two hours with Times reporter Judith Miller to complain about Wilson.

"And so, if you look at what was going on . . . if he gave someone an hour or two during that week, it was something that Mr. Libby thought would be important, correct?"

Hannah paused, but had to agree: "With regard to me, yes."

Despite his seriousness, Fitzgerald also has shown a sense of humor. He warned U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton that playing an interview from the "Imus in the Morning" radio show would be problematic because "there's no Imus exception to the hearsay rule."

Washington lawyers who have dropped in to watch the case say Fitzgerald's skills were best demonstrated in the tapes played in court of him questioning Libby before a grand jury. Under relentless questioning, Libby explained over nearly an hour that he forgot he learned about Plame from Cheney, then believed he learned it for the first time from NBC's Tim Russert, but recalled that Cheney did not share classified information. Libby's voice increasingly faded in strength, as Fitzgerald made him sound more and more illogical.

"And so when Tim Russert had this conversation with you, you didn't remember that the vice president told you in June that Wilson's wife works at the CIA," Fitzgerald said, "but when you remembered what you forgot, you remembered that you learned it in June not to be classified."

He paused, then asked incredulously: "As you sit here today, is that your testimony under oath?"

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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