Libby 'Pilloried' For Leak, Panel Members Believed
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
The jurors who huddled around two pushed-together conference tables for 10 days, meticulously filling 34 pages of facts from the trial on a large flip chart, believed that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff had been "pilloried" for a CIA leak that other top White House aides had committed along with him, according to one member of the panel.
Still, the juror said yesterday, the jury concluded that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury that investigated the leak. Sifting through mounds of evidence convinced the panel that Libby's memory of conversations with colleagues and journalists was not as faulty as the defense contended.
"We're not saying that we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of," said the juror, Denis Collins. "But it seemed like he was . . . the fall guy."
Collins, an author and ex-Washington Post reporter, was the only one of the seven women and four men on the jury to provide an inside glimpse into the method and thought process that the panel used to find Cheney's former top aide guilty of four felony counts.
Libby's conviction on two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstructing justice stemmed from what he told investigators about his role in disclosing the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame. Her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a retired ambassador, was sent by the CIA to Africa to assess reports that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear material there.
In the spring and early summer of 2003, Wilson infuriated Cheney and other White House officials by accusing President Bush of twisting his findings to justify the Iraq war. The prosecution contended Libby told reporters that Plame worked at the agency to insinuate that her husband was chosen for the CIA mission because of nepotism.
Collins's detailed description of the jury's deliberations, in public comments and interviews yesterday, suggests that Libby's attorneys made headway with one of the themes they emphasized throughout the case: that the defendant, as lead defense attorney Theodore V. Wells Jr. described it, was made a scapegoat by the White House to protect other presidential aides who were complicit in disclosing Plame's identity to reporters.
During the jury's days of methodical deliberations, "it was said a number of times, 'What are we doing with this guy here?' " Collins told reporters on the steps outside the federal courthouse. "Where's Rove, where's -- you know, where are these other guys?" Collins said, referring to Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, and Richard L. Armitage, a former deputy chief of staff who testimony showed had been the first person to leak Plame's name.
Moreover, Collins said, jurors believed that Libby had been carrying out a directive by his immediate boss, Cheney, to "go out and talk to reporters" to tarnish Wilson's reputation. But Collins said jurors stopped short of discussing whether the vice president specifically urged Libby to tell journalists about Plame's CIA job.
Nevertheless, the jury, by Collins's telling, was more strongly persuaded by the prosecution's central contention: It was implausible that Libby could have forgotten his role in finding out and telling reporters about Plame when he met with federal investigators. In particular, Collins said, jurors were struck by the juxtaposition of testimony from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and eight hours of audiotapes they heard of Libby's grand jury testimony.
A prosecution witness, Fleischer testified that Libby had told him "hush hush" about Plame over lunch on July 8, 2003 -- a Tuesday. In his grand jury testimony from March 2004, Libby said that Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News, told him about Plame during a conversation two or three days later, and that Libby had the impression he was learning about her for the first time. "It was just very hard not to believe how he could remember it on a Tuesday and then forget it on a Thursday," Collins said.
He said jurors thought it was especially implausible that Libby forgot when and how he learned about Plame, given that he repeated that information to other people. "If I tell it to someone else, it's even more unlikely that I would forget it," Collins said.