Looks like Dick Cheney’s man may be scooting off to the big house. A federal grand jury found former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI in the “Plamegate” CIA leak investigation.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is the only person charged in the case, which grew out of an investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who emerged in mid-2003 as an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s case for the Iraq war.
Fitzgerald says Libby learned about Plame from Cheney and other officials in June 2003 and relayed it to reporters. Libby’s defense team argued that Libby recalled his conversations to the best of his ability. Any inaccuracies he made to the FBI or a federal grand jury were the result of a faulty memory, attorneys said.
Libby, 56, who resigned as Cheney’s chief of staff upon being indicted in 2005, faces up to 10 years in prison for obstruction, the most serious charge. He also was convicted today in Washington of two counts of perjury and one count of making false statements to federal investigators and was acquitted of one false-statement count.
“We are very disappointed in the verdict of the jurors,” defense lawyer Ted Wells, with Libby at his side, told reporters outside the courthouse. “We have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated. We believe, as we said at the time of the indictment, that he is totally innocent.”
Wells said he will ask the judge for a new trial and, if that fails, will appeal the conviction.
The verdict is a blow to President George W. Bush’s administration, which is suffering from public disapproval for the president’s performance in office and handling of the Iraq war. Increasing opposition to the war was cited in polls as a factor in the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress in last November’s election.
Libby twice winced slightly as the verdict was being read in court. Wells shook his hand and another defense lawyer, William Jeffress, patted him on the back.
“The results are actually sad, it’s sad that we had a situation where” a high-ranking official “obstructed justice and lied under oath.”
“We’re gratified by the jury’s verdict,” the prosecutor said. Fitzgerald said he doesn’t expect to file any further charges in the CIA leak case. “We’re all going back to our day jobs,” said the prosecutor, who is the US attorney in Chicago.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush “respected the jury’s verdict” and is “saddened for Scooter Libby and his family.” She declined to comment further.
The jury began deliberating Feb. 21 and was in its 10th day.
Bush, asked Feb. 14 whether he might issue pardons in the CIA leak case, said he was “not going to talk about it.” Today, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride had no immediate comment on the verdict.
From FOX News:
Libby was accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents and the grand jury about how he learned about Valerie Plame’s identity and whom he told. Plame is the CIA employee whose husband, Amb. Joe Wilson, was sent to Niger by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium.
Wilson became a vocal critic of the Bush administration for using bad intelligence to justify the attack on Iraq. Libby and others, including President Bush aide Karl Rove, were implicated for trying to out Plame in retaliation for Wilson’s criticism.
Jurors heard 19 witnesses during the five-week trial, but Libby was not called to the stand. Among the witnesses testifying were journalists [Anderson] Cooper, Tim Russert of NBC and Judy Miller of The New York Times. Miller spent 85 days in jail so as not to reveal her source. She testified for the prosecution.
Juror Denis Collins, a former journalist, said after the trial that “the jurors were not happy after this was done. There was no congratulating. There was no ‘way to go'” for coming back with the guilty verdicts.
On the four counts with a guilty verdict, Libby was convicted of:
- Obstruction of justice for lying to the grand jury about being told by Russert that Plame worked at the CIA and all the reporters working the story knew it; lying about being surprised by Russert’s “news” and telling the grand jury that he told Cooper what he had “heard” from Russert;
- False statements to the FBI about his alleged conversation with Russert. Libby told the FBI he was surprised by this statement because he had forgotten that the vice president already told him of Plame’s status;
- Perjury to the grand jury about his conversation with Russert, and telling the grand jury he was “taken aback” to learn from Russert that Plame worked at the CIA; and
- Perjury to the grand jury about his conversation with Cooper, in which he supposedly told Cooper he had heard from other reporters that Plame worked for the CIA.
“The thing that convinced on most of the accounts was the alleged conversation with Russert. It was either false, which some of us believe it never happened, or if it did happen, Mr. Libby saying that he was surprised to hear about Mrs. Wilson,” said Collins.
Collins said that the jury had about 34 posted pages of “building blocks … and what we came up with was that Mr. Libby either was told by or told to about Mrs. Wilson at least nine times, and in a period of time where it was extremely” hard for him to have let it drop off the radar.
“We were told he had a bad memory, and we actually believed he did,” but testimony about Libby’s grasp of details was such that “even if he had forgot that someone had told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely that he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson,” Collins said, adding that the memory problem was the least convincing argument presented in the trial.
On count three, Libby was found not guilty of making false statements to the FBI that he told Cooper that reporters were saying Plame worked for the CIA, but that he didn’t know if that was true.
Cooper says Libby confirmed that Plame worked at the CIA. Libby told FBI agents that he only mentioned Plame to Cooper but he didn’t know for sure whether she worked at the agency.
After completing their ninth day of deliberations without a verdict Monday, jurors passed Walton three questions relating to count three suggesting that they were confused about what Fitzgerald was alleging.
The questions asked: Were prosecutors saying Libby knew that Plame worked for the CIA by the time of his FBI interview, jurors asked, or does the government believe Libby’s account of the Cooper conversation was untrue?
“To be clear, Mr. Libby is charged in count three with making a false statement to the FBI about what was said during his July 12, 2003, conversation with Mr. Cooper. Mr. Libby is not charged with making a false statement to Mr. Cooper. … To be clear, count three does not allege, nor does the prosecution contend, that Mr. Libby told the FBI that, at the time of his FBI interviews, he did not know that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA,” Walton responded to one of the jury questions.
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