Openings and Closings
Tuesday, February 20, 2007; 11:22 AM
With closing arguments being delivered today in the Scooter Libby trial, it's worth looking back in greater detail at the opening statements in the case, presented exactly four weeks ago.
Those statements were extensively reported at the time (see my January 24 column), but I'm not sure the coverage fully did justice to either side.
So today, while I'm off at the courthouse for the closings, I'm Web-publishing extensive excerpts of the opening statements.
In his opening, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald straightforwardly laid out his case, describing how witnesses would show that Libby lied to FBI agents and the grand jury. If the jury believed his witnesses -- and it would take a pretty imaginative conspiracy theory to believe they're all lying -- it's a strong case.
In the defense's opening, Theodore V. Wells Jr. makes a forceful plea to the jury to pay attention to the lack of direct evidence of Libby's guilt.
But even more than was captured in the initial coverage of the case, Wells centers the defense narrative around the notion that Libby was somehow being scapegoated in favor of White House political guru Karl Rove. (Wells mentions Rove fully 17 times in his opening, by my count.)
Wells did not make clear in the opening just how that related to the charges against Libby. And on account of the defense's strategic decision not to call either Libby or Vice President Cheney to the stand, Wells rested his case before presenting any evidence to support the claim -- or explain its relevance.
Some Brief Comments About the Closings
In opening statements, lawyers are only allowed to state what they believe the evidence will prove. In closing arguments, they are allowed to suggest inferences.
Wells, presumably, will be making a whole lot of inferences.
But I'm particularly curious about whether Fitzgerald and his team, who until now have kept their public pronouncements very strictly limited to the evidence in the case at hand, will finally expand on their theories of why Libby lied to them, and what it all means.
Specifically: Do they think Libby was lying to cover up for Cheney? And did those lies prevent them from pursuing their true target?
Murray Waas had another bombshell for the National Journal yesterday, writing that if Libby is found guilty, the prosecution may pursue Cheney legally -- presumably trying one more time to "flip" Libby and turn him into a prosecution witness.