Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Libby trial opens

And the opening statements were pretty interesting on both sides.

Legally speaking, Fitzgerald has an uphill battle to fight here. He has to prove that Libby deliberately lied; Libby's attorneys say he misremembered. He also has to persuade the jury that Libby had something to hide, despite the revelation of Richard Armitage's earlier leak of Plame's identity. Otherwise he will be (fairly) criticized for prosecuting a coverup of a nonexistent crime.

In his opening statements, Fitzgerald gave it his best shot:

Mr. Fitzgerald provided his own dramatic moment of the day when he played audio tapes of Mr. Libby’s grand jury testimony in March 2004.

But before doing so, he meticulously laid the groundwork for his case that Mr. Libby had lied during those appearances. He first presented charts showing that Mr. Libby learned about Ms. Wilson in conversations with several fellow administration officials in June and early July 2003, and that he also talked to reporters and other administration officials about her identity in that same time period.

Jurors then listened intently as Mr. Libby’s voice wafted through the courtroom while he sat silently at the defense table. Mr. Libby was heard to say that he believed he first learned about Ms. Wilson in a conversation with Tim Russert of NBC on Thursday, July 10. Mr. Libby also told the grand jury that he was taken aback by Mr. Russert’s information.

“You can’t be startled about something on Thursday that you told other people about on Monday and Tuesday,” Mr. Fitzgerald said referring to conversations Mr. Libby had only days before.

Further, he said, Mr. Russert will testify that his July 10 telephone conversation with Mr. Libby did not include any mention of Ms. Wilson. Mr. Libby, he said, had telephoned instead to complain about a talk show on the network.

“The evidence will show the conversation he claims took place about Wilson’s wife never happened,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “And even if it did happen he couldn’t have been surprised.”

Then the defense weighed in:

White House officials tried to sacrifice vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to protect strategist Karl Rove from blame for leaking a CIA operative's identity during a political storm over the Iraq war, Libby's lawyer said Tuesday.

After Libby complained "they want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Vice President Dick Cheney personally intervened to get the White House press secretary to publicly clear Libby in the leak, defense attorney Theodore Wells said in his opening statement at Libby's perjury trial.

The defense also raised the expected "he was a busy man, and he misremembered" explanation.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time dissecting the blow-by-blow maneuvers in the case, because I don't expect there to be much illumination in the end. We won't find out if the Plame leak was deliberate. We might find out that there was a coverup, but not exactly of what. Or we might discover that Fitzgerald's got nothing.

So for me the most interesting aspect of the case is the glimpse it provides into internal White House workings. The picture being painted is of an administration in a bit of disarray, so anxious to discredit Joe Wilson that they engage in a bit of "ready, fire, aim," in which there wasn't a cohesive response strategy and nobody really knew who was saying what to who. It reveals tensions between the vice presidential and presidential staffs, and Cheney being bluntly protective of Libby after the scandal broke. It reveals that even senior administration staffers thought the administration would be willing to sacrifice lesser staffers to save Rove.

Stay tuned.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This entire thing is about a matter as serious as......Libby saying he had eggs for breakfast, when actually he had pancakes! It's that material!! Total waste of time and taxpayer dollars! Shame of Fitzgerald for not ending this thing back when he should have.

1/23/2007 9:48 PM  

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