It was the defense attorney representing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby who first told jurors during closing arguments in the perjury and obstruction-of-justice trial Tuesday that the government believes Vice President Dick Cheney told Libby to leak the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson to a New York Times reporter in July 2003 to undermine the credibility of her husband, a critic of the Iraq War.
Additional information about what the prosecution believes Cheney's role in the leak may have been surfaced in closing arguments this week. The jury enters its third full day of deliberations Monday to decide whether Libby is guilty or innocent of five felonies. Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells, told jurors that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his deputy have been attempting to build a case of conspiracy against the vice president and Libby and that the prosecution believes Libby may have lied to federal investigators and a grand jury to protect Cheney.
At issue is whether a set of talking points Cheney dictated in July 2003, that the vice president's former chief of staff was instructed to discuss with the media, included information about Plame. The discussions with the media were supposed to be centered around Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, and the fact that he accused the White House of misrepresenting intelligence related to Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger, according to testimony by Cathie Martin, Cheney's former communications director.
Wilson had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium to build an atomic bomb. He reported back to the CIA that the allegations were baseless. But, the claims were cited as fact in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address. Wilson spent months criticizing the White House's use of the Niger claims in background interviews with reporters before publishing an opinion column in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, saying he was the special envoy who was sent to Niger to check out the intelligence. He asserted that the administration knowingly misled the public and Congress into war. Wilson's criticisms set off a chain of events that eventually led to the exposing of his wife's identity.
During the trial, Martin testified that she was present when Cheney dictated talking points about Wilson, but Wells said in his closing arguments that there was a clear implication by the prosecution that Martin may not have been privy to some of the private conversations that took place between Cheney and Libby regarding Plame.
"Now, I think the government, through its questions, really tried to put a cloud over Vice President Cheney," Libby's attorney Theodore Wells told jurors Tuesday, according to a transcript of the closing arguments obtained by Truthout. "During their questioning of Martin, the prosecutors questioned Ms. Martin: 'Well, you weren't with Mr. Libby and the vice president all the time. Some things could have happened when you weren't there.' And the clear suggestion by the questions were, well, maybe there was some kind of skullduggery, some kind of scheme between Libby and the vice president going on in private, but that's unfair."
Rebutting the defense's assertion that Cheney was not behind the leak, Fitzgerald told jurors, "You know what? [Wells] said something here that we're trying to put a cloud on the vice president. We'll talk straight. There is a cloud over the vice president. He sent Libby off to [meet with former New York Times reporter] Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel. At that meeting, the two hour meeting, the defendant talked about the wife [Plame]. We didn't put that cloud there. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice and lied about what happened."
Fitzgerald's impassioned presentation to the jury Tuesday suggests that he strongly believes Cheney instructed Libby to leak Plame's identity to Miller in July 2003. "If you think that the vice president and the defendant 'Scooter' Libby weren't talking about [Plame] during the week where the vice president writes that [Plame] sent [Wilson] on a junket, in [Wilson's] July 6 column, the vice president moves the number one talking point, 'not clear who authorized [Wilson's Niger trip], if you think that's a coincidence, well, that makes no sense," Fitzgerald told jurors.
Prior to Fitzgerald's rebuttal, Wells had told jurors that Libby's meeting with Miller came at the behest of President Bush, for the sole purpose of providing her with information from the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's nuclear ambitions. The leak of the NIE to Miller was aimed at beating back Wilson's criticism of the administration's use of prewar intelligence - not to disclose Plame's identity.
"The reason he took two hours to have lunch with Ms. Miller is that Mr. Libby understood that the vice president of the United States had directed him to go meet with Ms. Miller and that the president, President Bush, was behind it too," Wells said. "Not to say anything about Valerie [Plame] Wilson, but to discuss with Judith Miller, of the New York Times, information that President Bush had privately, lawfully declassified concerning the National Intelligence Estimate.... Now this is basically a secret mission that three people in the world know, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and 'Scooter' Libby. Because he goes and does what he is asked to do by the president and the vice president and meets with [Miller] for two hours."
But Fitzgerald fired back, telling jurors there may have been a discussion between Cheney and Libby shortly before the Miller meeting in which Cheney and Libby discussed whether to disclose Plame's identity to Miller. Furthermore, Fitzgerald told the jury that Cheney rewrote the talking points on July 8, 2003, the day Libby met with Miller, during a meeting he had with Libby and Martin, and that the number one issue for the vice president became who was responsible for sending Wilson on his trip to Niger.
"The vice president picked Judith Miller for a reason," Fitzgerald told the jury. "They went to the St. Regis Hotel for two hours for a reason. The best way to get a story out is to leak an exclusive. That's one of the times [July 8, 2003], the defendant shared the employment of Wilson's wife [Plame] with the CIA with Judith Miller. There was a focus of who sent Wilson [to Niger]. There was an obsession of Wilson. They felt the wife was responsible."
"The first time in his government career Mr. Libby ever heard anyone talk about declassifying something privately for the president to the vice president, and then given to Miller," Fitzgerald added. "Whatever is going on between the vice president and the defendant, that cloud was there. That's not something that we put there. That cloud is something we just can't pretend isn't there."
Originally published by Truthout.org
Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)