Libby Trial: Opening Arguments – Defense (Live Blog)

“My name is Ted Wells and I speak for Scooter Libby.” He is “totally innocent.” “He is an innocent man and he has been wrongly and unjustly and unfairly accused.”

No witness, no document, no scientific evidence will be produced saying that Scooter Libby lied, told them he was about to lie, or that he had lied. “It’s a weak, circumstantial evidence case about ‘He said, She said.'”

“People do not lie for the heck of it. When people tell an intentional lie it’s because they had done something wrong.” Scooter Libby had “no reason to lie.”

“Scooter Libby was not out pushing any reporters to write any stories about Valerie Wilson.”

“Scooter Libby did not have ANY KNOWLEDGE that Wilson’s job was covert” before Bob Novak’s column came out.

Scooter Libby was not concerned about any punishment but about “being a scapegoat” and “being set up” by “people in the White House” trying to “protect Karl Rove.”

Cheney note: “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.” Wells asserts that Karl Rove was the “staffer” in question.

Libby’s job normally didn’t involve dealing with reporters. He was consumed with “the most important national security issues of this country” every single day. He “got thrown into the meatgrinder” of dealing with this “16 word controversy” but “al Qaeda didn’t go away.”

Wilson’s identify only became a big deal once the criminal investigation kicked in. “In real time–in June and July–in terms of Scooter Libby, Ms. Wilson, where she worked, was no big deal to him.”

Libby forced to talk to FBI without being able to talk to his staff to refresh his memory, under specific instructions to that effect from the FBI, on October 14–months later. “He did his best” to tell the truth and recall as best he could “three telephone calls” that took place in June “with specificity and with details” some “snippets” that might have been “20 seconds.”

Neither Russert nor Cooper have any notes about the conversations and Miller admits her memory is fuzzy and her notes are minimal, maybe “two words.” And the dispute is over varying recollections of a few words.

Confirmation is very important to reporters. The fact that Cooper and Russert didn’t write anything down is proof that “He did not confirm ANYTHING.”

This man has “always been ‘Scooter'” because “he’s always on the move.”

Scooter Libby had TWO JOBS – chief of staff and national security advisor for the VP. He had an incredible amount on his plate. To even go in to the details of what he did could “hurt the country,” so we won’t do that. But just remember, “he had a day job” in addition to “going into the meatgrinder.”

Libby did not leak to Robert Novak. “That is the article that said to the world ‘Ambassador Wilson’s wife works for the CIA and put it in the public domain.” There is “no dispute” on the fact that “Richard Armitage, who worked at the State Department” was Novak’s source. “It was Libby’s understanding that the investigation was about WHO LEAKED TO ROBERT NOVAK.” “He did not get that understanding from a dream” but rather from the Justice Department memo outlining the investigation.

“Was Cheney mad? You doggone betcha.” Because he was being accused on something he didn’t do. “Vice president Cheney is 100% correct” when he says he didn’t know anything about the Wilson Niger trip before Nick Kristoff referred to it obliquely in May 6, 2003.

Wilson “outs” himself in the July 6 NYT op-ed. No longer “unnamed ambassador.” Wilson claimed to have been sent my Cheney–which may have been his legitimate understanding–but it was not in fact the case. Cheney had no idea he had gone, let alone gotten a report. Wilson’s MTP appearance that morning went much further.

This is “how it has come that Mr. Libby is talking to various reporters” — he was on orders from the VP to rebut the idea that Cheney was hiding information from the Wilson-Niger report.

The Novak article comes out on July 14, revealing that Wilson’s wife worked at CIA. Much later learned that Powell deputy Richard Armitage was his source.

Novak had actually completed the article on July 11th and sent out to his syndicator so that it could be published. “Sent to over 85 newspapers.” “So this so-called secret…is in approximately 85 newsrooms.”

All the conversations under dispute here started on or after July 12th.

Break for lunch until 1340.

Court resumed precisely at 1340 with the prosecution taking issue with two things from the opening arguments made so far by the defense: the statement that “I can’t say what her status is” and a statement to the effect that there were things about which the government has said that the defense can’t bring out because of the classified nature of the information.

The judge ruled that the first issue is no big deal but that he was slightly concerned about the second. Wells said he would “fix it” in the remainder of his opening statement and the judge has reserved the right to make an additional statement if he still thinks there’s an issue.

Wells resumed his statement at 1:48 by returning to the Timeline of Events, which was accompanied by a graphic. The emphasis, with big red arrows and bright yellow font, is that the FBI testimony was 3 months and the grand jury testimony was 9 months after the phone calls in question.

This is not a case of, as the prosecutor put it, “learning something on Tuesday and forgetting on Thursday.”

In the first 15-20 minutes of Libby’s discussion with the FBI, he stated categorically on October 14 that he has learned it from the vice president and had a note to that effect.

Wells compares Libby’s recollection that Russert asked him on July 10 or 11 about Valerie Plame with Russert’s statement that he didn’t know until he read it in Novak’s column 3 days later. He points out that neither Libby nor Russert have any notes on the conversation and that their recollections were from three months after the fact. Given that other NBC reporters (David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell) already knew, it’s not at all unlikely that Russert would have heard something.

Gregory learned from Ari Fleischer on July 11. Mitchell stated on October 3 “it was widely known among the reporters who covered the intelligence community that Amb Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA” well before the Novak column.

“It makes no sense” to “cook up a story” involving “one of the most respected newsmen in America.”

There was no “protected conversation” with Russert because he wasn’t calling as a source but rather to make the equivalent of a “customer complaint” to Russert in his capacity as head of NBC News’ political bureau.

Further, there is a “Maybe Russert is Right and Libby is Wrong” [slide title] scenario that are still is not a lie: He confused Russert with another reporter with whom he had similar conversations that week, Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper.

The consensus in the media room is that the chain of people involved here is so confusing that there’s no way the jury is following it. As one reporter observed, “If Fitzgerald doesn’t keep it simple, he’s f****d.”

The phone call between Libby and Cooper took place while Libby was trying to board Air Force 2 on a Saturday when Libby is taking his family to see the commissioning of the USS Ronald Reagan. It’s his son’s 10th birthday. “A day off.” He’s not focused too much on talking to Cooper, just doing it because Cooper had been bugging the press secretary.

Cooper took notes but there’s “not a word about the wife — not a word.” “The notes don’t support Mr. Cooper’s recollection.” Further, Cooper didn’t mention Plame in an email report about the conversation to his editors. Conversely, Cooper’s notes about his conversation with Karl Rove extensively talk about “the wife.”

Judith Miller “testified repeatedly that her memory was bad.” “I’m just speculating.” “My memory is fuzzy.” “I might have been confused.” Further, Miller admits she might have brought up “Victoria Wilson” to trick Libby into confirming information.

“The Evidence Will Show The Russert Story Was Unnecessary” [slide title] Not only “illogical but intellectually flawed.” On the same day he talked with Russert, he had been told by Karl Rove that Novak has already written the story. So, he could have said “I heard it from reporters” by using Novak rather than making up a “false, phony story” about Russert. Prosecution’s theory “is just stupid.”

“There is a difference between Wilson’s charges and Wilson’s wife.”

Libby was known around the office as having a bad memory–smart as hell but a lousy memory. “He lived by his notes” which were copious. “In hundreds of pages of Libby’s notes, there is one line about Wilson’s wife.”

Several slides were introduced and then read verbatim about the Government’s stipulations as to the complexity and importance of issues Libby worked on as part of his duties as Cheney’s natsec advisor. This was stipulated to avoid having to introduce classified information. Buzzwords included AQ Khan, nuclear weapons, terrorism, al Qaeda, anthrax, Turkey, Iraq, and others. This is the crux of the defense’s case that Libby was so busy with incredibly important affairs of state that it’s easy to see how he could have forgotten some details about “the wife.”

During the week in which the phone conversations in question took place, Libby was distracted with worries about nuclear attacks, al Qaeda attacks, assassination attempts on the president and his staff, etc.

Summation: Libby didn’t lie and had no reason to lie. All the evidence is circumstantial.

The opening statement is concluded. The court is taking a ten minute recess. It’s not clear whether testimony will commence or court will adjourn after the return.

Following return from recess, the prosecution objected to the defense’s repeated reference to the fact that he was under restrictions pertaining to classified information as if the government was not. Judge Walter notes that the executive branch can rule on what is permissible to declassify or not, so are not hampered in a similar way. He does, however, think it “unfair” to suggest his “hands are tied” based on his own interpretation of the law.

The government is also concerned about Wells’ closing statement that “The only way you convict my client is if you violate your oath” went too far. The judge will instruct the jury that counsel’s personal views on what the evidence means is not relevant, only the jury’s conclusions.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. clarice says:

    You are doing a wonderful job. At JOM we are all ears.

  2. Sue says:

    Someone should consider making this thread the 1st thread on your page. It is starting to get lost in other posts.