By Amy Goldstein and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
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.
The 11 jurors who convicted Libby on all but one count were, in several respects, atypical of the District's population. In a city that is heavily Democratic and where attention to politics runs high, the jurors were a largely apolitical group. Under careful questioning during jury selection, Libby's attorneys weeded out members of the large initial jury panel who said they held strong negative views of the Bush administration -- and even ones who said they followed news and politics closely.
In a city that is majority African American, all but two members of the jury -- both women -- were white. In addition, the jury was highly educated, including three members with PhDs.
The jury began its deliberations Feb. 21 with 12 members. But a woman in her 70s who holds a doctorate in art history was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton last week after telling fellow jurors that she had been exposed to outside information about Libby -- a violation of the judge's instructions.
The jury chose as its forewoman an accountant who works at the law firm Hogan & Hartson.
According to Collins, the tenor of deliberations was cool. Sitting in armchairs around the conference tables, with an adjacent office for phone calls to home and work, he said: "We were in a cocoon." To begin, the jury members used the large Post-it pages they had procured from the court to detail each witness's testimony, motivation to tell the truth, believability and state of mind.
"We took about a week just to get all these little building blocks there . . . We reached no decision quickly."
"In the end," Collins said, "what we came up with was that Mr. Libby either was told by or told to people about Mrs. Wilson at least nine times."
After reaching the verdict on the last charge at 11:15 yesterday morning, Collins said the jurors displayed little emotion. But after they filed out of the courtroom slightly more than an hour later, their verdict rendered, several wept as they walked through a corridor toward Walton's chambers for a final meeting with the judge.
Collins said he interpreted the tears as the release of pent-up tension from the long, celebrated trial. "It was not," he said, because jurors were thinking, " 'Oh, we're sorry to see Libby convicted.' "
Staff writer Christopher Lee and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.