Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Libby trial has started with a bang!

This is what we (and Joe and Valerie Wilson) have been waiting for about two years. The legal preliminaries are over, the jury has been seated, and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has presented his theory of the case in his opening statement. "Scooter" Libby and his boss, VICE-PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY are in real trouble. MSNBC has just posted this:
Fitzgerald said Cheney told his chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby, in 2003 that the wife of Iraq critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA, and that Libby spread that information to reporters. When that information got out, it triggered a federal investigation.

“But when the FBI and grand jury asked about what the defendant did,” Fitzgerald said, “he made up a story.”

Fitzgerald also alleged that Libby in September 2003 “wiped out” a Cheney note just before Libby's first FBI interview when he said he learned about Wilson and his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, from reporters, not the vice president.
[This is obstruction of justice.]

It was not clear if Fitzgerald meant that an attempt was made to destroy the note or that Libby had forgotten about it. In any case, the note was recovered and is part of the evidence.
[This is documentary evidence of both the perjury and the obstruction of justice.]

Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction. He
[Libby] told investigators he was surprised to learn the identity of Wilson’s wife from NBC News reporter Tim Russert. [This is the lie told to the Grand Jury which led to the perjury charge.]

But Fitzgerald told jurors that was clearly a lie because Libby had already been discussing the matter inside and outside of the White House. “You can’t learn something on Thursday that you’re giving out on Monday,” Fitzgerald said.

Libby says he didn’t lie but was simply bogged down by national security issues and couldn’t remember details of what he told reporters about Plame.
The Defense appears to have accepted these events as fact. So the Defense strategy is going to have to explain why Libby did these things and yet somehow was not lying when he spoke to the Grand Jury. Notice that Libby is not accused to the initial leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent to the news media. The media has reported that this was done by Richard Armitage speaking to Robert Novak, the ultra conservative columnist, and was probably accidental on the part of Armitage. [Does he still have a security clearance?]

But this was not publicized at the time Libby first went before the Grand Jury. So what did the Defense opening statement describe as the defense against the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice? More follows:
In their opening statements, Libby's attorneys said Bush administration officials tried to blame him for the leak to cover up for presidential adviser Karl Rove’s own disclosures.

Attorney Theodore Wells said Libby went to Cheney in 2003 and complained that the White House was subtly blaming him for leaking Plame’s identity to columnist Robert Novak.

“They’re trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Wells said, recalling the alleged conversation between Libby and Cheney. “I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.”
[So one problem is that there is in-fighting between Bush's staff and Cheney's staff, and Libby considered that Bush's staff would rather he be sacrificed than Karl Rove. Libby is concerned that he will be the scapegoat for the Plame leak. I'm not sure how that becomes exculpatory evidence for Libby, but I am sure we will hear.]

Libby plans to testify and tell jurors he had many other issues on his mind at the time, such as terrorist threats and emerging nuclear programs overseas. Attorneys say they expect Cheney to testify for the defense.
This is the famed "Hey, I was really, really busy and I just flat forgot where I heard that Plame worked for the CIA." If Libby and his lawyers can establish this, then the Jury may be asked to determine that Fitzgerald has not proven Libby's guilt beyond any legal doubt. They have presented a reasonable reason for Libby to have told the Grand Jury what he did and yet not intended to lie.

To head this off, Fitzgerald's has indicated that he will demonstrate that Libby had reason to lie to the Grand Jury.
In court last week, Fitzgerald briefly touched on his explanation.

He said Libby feared political embarrassment and worried he might lose his job for discussing classified information with reporters. Bush originally threatened to fire anyone who disclosed such information so, even though Libby wasn’t Novak’s source, Fitzgerald said Libby had a reason to lie.
So that's where the trial stands as of about an hour ago.

For those who are addicted to the Libby trial, Empty Wheel of firedoglake is there and live-blogging. Here are her posts for today as of now, latest is first:
Firedoglake is very busy, so it is timing out. All I can say is keep trying or wait until tonight.

link to wrap-up added Jan 24.

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