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During opening arguments Tuesday in the trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., the prosecution repeatedly fingered Libby as a liar who intentionally misled investigators about how he learned the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame. “This is not a case about bad memory,” Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told jurors. “It’s about shifting information to reporters away from where he really learned it.” But defense lawyers for Libby accused the White House of making the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney the administration’s fall guy for Fitzgerald’s leak investigation. Addressing the jury, lawyer Theodore Wells Jr. tried to raise doubts about the memory � and credibility � of the government officials and reporters whose testimony is expected to contradict Libby’s recollections. “It’s a classic case of he said, she said, and what two people remember three months later,” said Wells, telling the jury that the government’s case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence and that no one will take the stand to say Libby lied. Libby, 56, is charged with five felony counts of false statements, obstruction of justice, and perjury in connection with what he told the FBI and a grand jury about conversations he had with three reporters in 2003. He was the only person charged as a result of Fitzgerald’s 2 1/2-year investigation into whether classified information about Plame’s CIA employment was illegally leaked to the press. The arguments came on the eve of President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. It was in that speech, four years ago, that the president suggested Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Africa. The veracity of that claim later served as the basis for attacks by Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on the administration’s decision to invade Iraq and allegedly led to a campaign within the White House to discredit Wilson. Although the trial, expected to last about six weeks, will not answer the question of whether the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the rationale for invading Iraq, the war hung heavy over today’s arguments. Over the course of an hour, Fitzgerald laid out the government’s case to the jury. By Fitzgerald’s account, the timeline of Libby’s conversations simply does not add up: How, he asked, could Libby claim that he first learned about Valerie Plame’s CIA employment on July 10, 2003, from Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press” when Libby had already had conversations about Wilson’s wife with at least six government officials? According to Fitzgerald’s calculation, Libby first learned about Wilson’s wife from Cheney on June 11, 2003, and discussed it with multiple government officials in the following days and month. Those officials included Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman; CIA Associate Director Robert Grenier; Cathie Martin, a press secretary for the Office of the Vice President; David Addington, Cheney’s chief counsel; CIA briefer Craig Schmall; and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. On July 6, 2003, The New York Times published an opinion piece Wilson wrote questioning the accuracy of the 16 words in the State of the Union speech about Iraq’s alleged acquisition of uranium in Niger. The next day, Fitzgerald said, he told Fleischer over lunch that he had “hush-hush” information that Wilson’s wife was employed in the CIA’s weapons of mass destruction section. On July 8, Libby met with then- New York Times reporter Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel about Wilson’s wife. That same day, he asked Addington, a former CIA official, about someone at the CIA sending a spouse on an investigation. “You can’t learn something starting on Thursday [that] you’re giving out on Monday and Tuesday,” Fitzgerald said. To back up his claim about Libby’s conversation with reporters, Fitzgerald played excerpts of Libby’s grand jury testimony with Russert and Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. Although Russert has said that he never spoke about Wilson’s wife with Libby, on the tape Libby said he did: “And then he said, �Did you know that Ambassador Wilson’s wife works at the CIA?’ I was a little taken aback by that. I said, �No, I don’t know that’ . . . I wanted to be very careful not to confirm it.” Similarly, during his testimony about Cooper, Libby said, “I was very careful; in my mind I still didn’t know it as a fact.” He added, “I didn’t even know he had a wife.” Taking roughly two hours to outline Libby’s defense, Wells declared that Libby was completely innocent. Instead, Wells painted a picture of deep bureaucratic infighting and pointed the finger squarely at the White House. He suggested that the White House � specifically presidential adviser Karl Rove � and the State Department may have pushed information to the press. “But Scooter Libby didn’t push any reporter,” Wells said. Libby was afraid that he was “being set up” as the scapegoat for Rove, whose “fate was important to the Republican Party,” Wells said. So Libby went to Cheney for help, Wells said. “I will not be sacrificed so that Karl Rove can be saved,” Wells said Libby told his boss. Cheney made a note, intended for the president, that he was “not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others,” according to a note Wells displayed.
LIBBY’s DEFENSE
Below is a chronology presented by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s lawyers during their opening statements Tuesday, as part of Libby’s defense that he was preoccupied with national security concerns in summer 2003 � the period of time during which he is accused of lying to a grand jury about leaking Valerie Plame’s identity. The chronology details a snapshot of key intelligence about potential threats against the United States.• July 6: Tense discussion with Vice President Dick Cheney and the Turkish prime minister about Turkish troops captured by American forces• July 7: Possibility that an Iraq-based terrorist group has established a link with al Qaeda and is developing a presence in the United States• July 8: Possible al Qaeda plans to carry out attack against U.S. targets, including President George W. Bush and his senior aides; Possible attempt against the president in South Africa• July 9: Possible al Qaeda plan to assassinate the president in Uganda; Nuclear weapons proliferation in North Korea• July 10: Possible al Qaeda car-bomb attack against symbolic targets; Possible attack against a U.S. university by a terrorist group with operatives in the United States• July 11: Possible plan for al Qaeda attacks using airplanes; Information concerning possible terrorist groups� plans to assassinate U.S. officials• July 12: Possible al Qaeda terrorist operation using tanker trucks to bomb unidentified U.S. skyscrapers

Indeed, Cheney specifically asked Libby to speak to reporters about Wilson’s attacks � but to do so on the merits. A note card Cheney approved that contained specific statements to rebut Wilson’s argument included no mention of Wilson’s wife, Wells said. But while defending the claims against Wilson may have been important, Wells said, Plame was not. Wells also took aim at the credibility of many of the government’s witnesses. For instance, Wells said, not all of the government witnesses remembered their conversations with Libby the first time around. And, some, like Fleischer, did not speak with federal investigators before receiving immunity. As for the reporters, he noted, they had very few or no notes to back up their conversations. Wells raised the possibility that Russert might have known about Wilson’s wife because two of his reporters were chasing the Wilson story. Wells said that on July 11, 2003, Fleischer told White House correspondent David Gregory about Wilson’s wife. Wells also mentioned NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, who said during an Oct. 3, 2003, television broadcast that it was widely known before July 14 by reporters covering intelligence that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. “If Andrea Mitchell knew, doggone it, Tim Russert knew,” Wells said. (Mitchell later retracted this statement.) Wells asked why Libby would concoct the story. “If you’re going to cook up a story, why are you going to cook up a story about a phony conversation you had with one of the most respected reporters in the country?” Wells said, referring to Russert. Instead, Wells suggested that Libby may simply have confused his conversations with Russert and with Robert Novak, whose column first disclosed the name of Wilson’s wife. Around that same time, Libby spoke with Novak. Wells said Novak would take the stand and say, “It’s possible when he had Libby on the phone that he said to Libby, �Do you know his wife works at the CIA?’ and that Libby did not confirm anything to him.” Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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