Did Libby Make a Deal?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, March 8, 2007; 1:20 PM

One of the abiding mysteries of the Scooter Libby case has been why his defense so dramatically changed tactics in mid-trial.

The former vice presidential chief of staff was found guilty on Monday of obstruction of justice and perjury in a case related to the outing of a CIA operative's identity to discredit her husband, an administration critic.

In pretrial hearing, Libby's defense team had indicated that they would call Vice President Cheney as a witness and that Libby himself would take the stand as well. Testimony from either of them, but in particular from Cheney, could very well have opened up an enormous can of worms for the White House. And the spectacle alone -- that of a vice president being cross-examined in a criminal case -- was something the administration wanted devoutly to avoid.

Then, in his opening statement, Libby defense lawyer Theodore V. Wells Jr. shocked pretty much everybody by promising jurors that he would show them evidence that his client felt scapegoated in favor of White House golden boy Karl Rove.

All of a sudden, it appeared Libby had declared war against the White House. It looked, at that point, like he had thrown any idea of getting a presidential pardon to the wind. (See my Jan. 24 column, A Lurid Look Behind the Curtain.)

But then on Feb. 13, after barely two days of defense testimony, Libby's team abruptly announced that neither Cheney nor Libby would take the stand. (See my Feb. 14 column, The Libby-Cheney Bummer.)

What happened in between? Why did Team Libby suddenly decide not to call such essential witnesses? Why would Wells put forth such a dramatic narrative -- Libby as scapegoat -- without offering one word of testimony to back it up? And what led some of the finest defense lawyers in the country to rest so quickly, having left the prosecution's meticulous case substantively unrefuted?

A possible hint comes today in the 14th paragraph of Peter Baker's and Carol D. Leonnig's Washington Post story about the fevered speculation regarding the prospect of Libby pardon:

"Despite the defense's trial argument that Libby was made a scapegoat by the White House, aides and advisers said there is no anger toward him in the West Wing. Libby's defense team reached out to an intermediary after its opening statement to reassure the White House about its strategy, according to a source close to the situation."

Wow!

In what form did this reaching out take place? Was it two-way? Was Team Libby's threat to attack Rove, call Cheney to the stand and potentially spill plenty of White House secrets just a bargaining chip in some sort of negotiation? Was their decision to rest their case in any way related to any promises from the White House?

Could Libby have made some sort of a deal with the White House to ensure a presidential pardon?


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