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Libby Jurors Consider Cooper Conversation

By Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Jurors in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby indicated yesterday they remain focused on whether Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff lied to the FBI about a July 12, 2003, conversation with Matthew Cooper, then a reporter for Time magazine.

In a note to the presiding judge late yesterday afternoon, jurors asked three questions about how they should decide whether Libby is guilty of making a false statement to investigators about his conversation with Cooper.

After sending the note, the jury concluded its ninth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. During that time, it has sent U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton five questions about Libby's statements to the FBI regarding his conversation with Cooper.

The note was not released to the public. According to a partial description by Walton, who summoned lawyers for both sides to go over the note, the 11 jurors sought in one of the three questions to know whether they may consider Libby's March 2004 grand jury testimony about his conversation with Cooper as they deliberate whether he made false statements to the FBI months beforehand about the same conversation.

Libby gave the FBI and the grand jury similar descriptions of the conversation, saying he passed along gossip from other reporters about an undercover CIA officer to Cooper, and told Cooper he was not sure it was true. But the grand jury testimony is tape-recorded, and the defense has questioned the accuracy of an FBI agent's notes.

Walton released the jury for the day and said he would decide how to instruct them today.

Libby, 56, is charged with five felony charges of lying to the FBI and grand jury about his role in disclosing the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media. Her name and CIA job were revealed in a syndicated column in July 2003, days after her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly accused the White House of twisting intelligence he had gathered.

The CIA sent Wilson to Africa in 2002 to assess reports that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium from Niger for use in a nuclear weapons program. Wilson concluded those reports were baseless, and shortly after the Iraq war began, denounced President Bush and Cheney for using the claim as a central argument for war.

Prosecutors allege that, in the spring and early summer of 2003, Libby was part of a White House campaign to discredit Wilson, then lied to investigators to protect his job and spare Cheney and Bush political embarrassment.

Defense attorneys contend their client inaccurately remembered conversations about Wilson and Plame because he was busy with critical national security issues.

Also yesterday, defense and prosecution lawyers argued about how Walton should respond to a question the jury posed Friday about the definition of reasonable doubt. He responded by asking the jury for more information.

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