I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, right, and his wife Harriet Grant, left, arrive at a U.S. Federal Court in Washington on Wednesday, January 24, 2007.
President Bush Faces an Uncomfortable Verdict
// A Conviction for Lewis "Scooter" Libby Could Prove Dangerous for George Bush
The end is near in the federal perjury trial of US Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr. The court has already heard closing arguments from attorneys for the defense and the prosecution, and the grand jury is due to deliver its verdict within the next few days. Despite attempts to sweep the scandal under the rug, the prosecution has presented weighty evidence of Mr. Libby's guilt, and many believe that the jury will agree. That would hand new ammunition to opponents of the White House in their struggle against George Bush, and it may even open the door to what some are calling "a new Watergate."
Put in a Good Word for Poor Libby
More than four weeks of hearings in the trial of former senior White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. concluded yesterday. During the trial, the jury was treated to a long parade of witnesses that included current and former White House officials and well-known American journalists, whose testimony was intended to cast light on the role played by Mr. Libby in the scandalous exposure in summer 2003 of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Wilson, better known as Valerie Plame, after her name was leaked by someone in the Bush administration.
In his closing arguments, Theodore V. Wells Jr., the chief attorney for the defense, appeared to be desperately attempting to save Mr. Libby by making a play for the jurors' emotions. Mr. Wells' passionate, emotional speech painted Mr. Libby as a man who, if he failed to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth, did so not out of any malign intent but as result of the high-pressure environment at his job as Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and as a top advisor to President Bush. According to the plea from the defense, no one in Mr. Libby's shoes could have been expected to keep tabs on all of the minutiae of a constantly stressful daily schedule. "If it turned out that what he said was wrong, that doesn’t mean he is a liar,” Mr. Wells told the jury. "It means he may have misrecollected what happened.”
In order to substantiate his client's innocent forgetfulness, Mr. Wells attempted to conjure up for the jury a picture of the hellishly difficult and weighty responsibilities shouldered by Mr. Libby in his position in the president's administration during the period when the Plame scandal was unfolding. “He was bombarded with a blizzard of information. Those briefings would make your toes curl,” Mr. Wells said, referring to the intelligence reports that Mr. Libby received every day. The seasoned lawyer reminded the jury of another potentially important circumstance: in July of 2003, Lewis Libby was up to his neck in the critical task of averting further terrorist attacks against America after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The mention of September 11 in the same breath as the Valerie Plame affair was clearly not an accident.
Mr. Wells openly acknowledged that the jury's verdict may depend in no small part on each individual juror's attitude towards the White House. "Don't sacrifice Scooter Libby, no matter what you're feeling towards the Bush administration or towards the war in Iraq," he said, his voice breaking.
Like any good orator, he concluded his speech in the same vein that he began: with the "human touch." "This is a man with a wife and two children; he is a good person. He’s been under my protection for the last month. I give him to you. Give him back to me," Mr. Wells told the jury in closing, before unexpectedly tearing up and sitting down with an audible sob. If found guilty on five counts of perjury, this "father of two children" and "good person," who purportedly saved his country from a "second 9/11," could face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million.
"He Threw Sand in the Eyes of the Grand Jury"
The speech by Mr. Wells culminated efforts by the Bush administration to get Mr. Libby off the hook. During the hearings last week, six representatives of major American media outlets appeared before the court to assert unanimously that Lewis Libby had nothing to do with the leak concerning Valerie Wilson. The journalists are all known to be close to the White House.
Prosecuting attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, however, made it clear that he has no intention of allowing Mr. Libby to emerge unscathed, and he steadily chipped away at the defense that Mr. Libby's actions were not motivated by malice. In his closing arguments, Mr. Fitzgerald maintained that the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Wilson's identity was not a consequence of forgetfulness on Mr. Libby's part but rather the result of a deliberate attempt by the White House to retaliate against Mrs. Wilson's husband, retired US diplomat Joseph Wilson, for publicly debunking several assertions made by the Bush administration before the war in Iraq. Mr. Wilson was sent to Niger in 2002 by the US State Department to investigate a claim that Iraq had tried to purchase African uranium. Upon his return, Mr. Wilson called the story false and accused the White House of manipulating the facts in an attempt to establish Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's desire to build an atomic bomb. According to Mr. Fitzgerald and his fellow counsel, Peter Zeidenberg, Mr. Libby learned of Valerie Wilson's real occupation from several colleagues in the Bush administration and subsequently knowingly leaked her name to reporters at several American publications. Mr. Libby then tried to cover his tracks by not admitting any criminal conduct to the grand jury and attempting to mislead the jurors. "Mr. Libby had a motive to lie and the motive matches up exactly with the lie he told,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the jury indignantly. “He made up a story and stuck to it.”
The end of his argument was no less emotionally-charged than that of the defense. According to Mr. Fitzgerald's summary, Mr. Libby “made a gamble, he threw sand in the eyes of the grand jury in order to escape detection and to avoid responsibility for leaking the name of Valerie Plame." In Mr. Fitzgerald's mind, there is clearly no doubt of Mr. Libby's guilt.
Lame and Lamer
Though the jury is still out in the Libby trial, most analysts in Washington are predicting a guilty verdict for Mr. Libby. The question is only what the sentence will be.
Having failed to contain the scandal surrounding the leak in the White House, the Bush administration, which is having a rough time of it anyway, is facing another painful blow from its Democratic opponents. With Mr. Libby, who was once Vice-President Dick Cheney's right-hand man, to hold up as an example of how this White House operates, the Democrats could cast serious doubt over the administration's right to enjoy the trust of the American people.
Mr. Bush, who has already become something of a lame duck president, will likely find himself in an even more unenviable position after the verdict is delivered in the Libby trial. The prerequisites for a new Watergate in America are already falling into place.
All the Article in Russian as of Feb. 22, 2007