By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 1, 2007
A week into deliberations in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, jurors yesterday provided the first glimpse of the issues they are weighing by signaling confusion over how to interpret one of the five felony counts against the vice president's former top aide.
According to that charge, Libby lied to the FBI about a conversation with a Time magazine reporter.
The jury's confusion, relayed in a note to the presiding judge and released by the court yesterday, proved short-lived. When U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton asked them to clarify their question, the jury members swiftly sent him an apologetic second note, saying they had talked further and "now are clear on what we had to do."
The jury completed its sixth day of deliberation without reaching a verdict.
Libby, 56, is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury during a federal investigation into the Bush administration's 2003 leak of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity, and of trying to obstruct the probe. Prosecutors allege that Libby lied about how he learned about Plame and whom he told about her.
Plame is the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent by the CIA in 2002 to determine whether Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger. He found the claims groundless and later accused the Bush administration of twisting his conclusions to justify the war in Iraq. Prosecutors say administration officials disclosed Plame's identity to discredit Wilson by insinuating he was sent on the mission because of nepotism.
Libby's attorneys say their client has a bad memory and inaccurately remembered conversations he had about the couple with colleagues and journalists. Libby is not charged with the leak itself.
The jury's temporary confusion revolved around a false-statement charge that outside legal experts have described as potentially the most difficult of the five counts to prove. It stems from Libby's account to FBI agents of his July 12, 2003, telephone conversation with Matthew Cooper, then a White House reporter for Time magazine.
The outside prosecutors and defense lawyers said there are fewer conflicts between Libby's and Cooper's versions of events than there are in the facts of a second false-statements charge, which arises from a conversation Libby had with NBC News's Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert. They also said defense attorneys had raised doubts during the trial about the FBI's precision and the accuracy of Cooper's note-taking.
FBI agents say Libby told them that in his conversation with Cooper he merely relayed scuttlebutt from other reporters that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, adding that he did not know whether that was true. Cooper testified he had asked Libby whether Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that Libby responded to the effect of "I've heard that, too," without mentioning other reporters or his uncertainty about the truth.
In a three-sentence note sent to the judge late Tuesday afternoon, the jury asked: "Is the charge that the statement was made or is it about the content of the statement itself?"
Yesterday morning, Walton told lawyers for both sides that he was not certain he understood what the jury was asking. The lead defense attorney, Theodore Wells Jr., told the judge the parties believed they understood it.