In blogging, you want to seize one or two key points as quickly as possible, to give your post some zing. Reporters Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein make my life easier with the lede in Wednesday's Libby Told A 'Dumb Lie,' Prosecutor Says on A4:
Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff lied to investigators about his role in leaking a CIA officer's identity in order to keep his job and protect the White House from political embarrassment, prosecutors told jurors yesterday in the closing arguments of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury trial.
Pointing to a courtroom screen showing eight witnesses who contradicted Libby, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said it was no coincidence that Bush administration colleagues and reporters recalled Libby as intensely focused on undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame early in the summer of 2003, as her husband was publicly challenging the White House's rationale for going to war in Iraq.
But Fitzgerald never presented evidence that Plame was undercover by then. He did paint an odd portrait in his closing argument about how any normal person would remember revealing the identify of someone whose outing could lead to someone else being killed. This is either a mistake or a "mistake" that prompted Judge Walton to explain to jurors that "sometimes lawyers say things they didn't mean to say," a charitable gesture in a trial where he's repeatedly instructed jurors that the status of Valerie Plame was not something they should even speculate about.
This may be fodder for an appeal. In closing arguments, you're not supposed to enter new evidence unsupported by the trial that just took place. Oops. And double-oops, the Post is not supposed to present the prosecution's insinuation as a fact.
The Posties continue:
In impassioned, and at times disjointed arguments, the defense lawyers drew attention to numerous witnesses who had faulty or questionable memories and conflicting recollections. They said it was unfair to assume that the witnesses had made honest mistakes but that Libby's untruths were deliberate.
Part of that tracks with liveblogging by lefty but diligent Jeralyn Merritt, who suggests that Libby attorney Ted Wells was occasionally all over the place. Leonnig and Goldstein, however, leave out some value-added entertainment from Fitzgerald. Here, Merritt describes the opening of Fitzgerald's rebuttal:
Fitz starts off yelling "Madness," referring to the defense closing arguments.
Okay, so he didn't like the defense! Relax! And now, for our regularly scheduled misrepresentation of Joe Wilson's Excellent Adventure. Leonnig and Goldstein write:
Wilson turned out to be a potent critic. He had been sent to Niger by the CIA a year earlier to check on reports that Iraq had tried to obtain material for nuclear weapons there, and concluded that the reports were false. Within days of Wilson going public about his findings in July 2003 , the White House acknowledged that President Bush's State of the Union address should not have included the assertion that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium.
Yes, the White House lost nerve and failed to stand by intelligence the Brits have never renounced, and which Joe Wilson himself found evidence to support in the form of a former Niger prime minister telling him he believed Iraq had sought uranium. Wilson can conclude whatever he wants, and did, but this thumbnail, which has turned up in at least the last three stories, is indefensibly misleading.
But there is some truth here, you just have to know where to look. For example, Wilson did turn out to be a potent critic. Critics are potent when reporters and editors and entire newsrooms are are non-motivated to fact-check them.
Zeidenberg also said Libby had several motives to lie. The president had said he would fire whoever had disclosed Plame's identity, a criminal investigation had begun, and, at Libby's urging, Cheney had personally vouched for Libby, getting the White House to say publicly that Libby was not the leaker.
I think that's wrong. Parsing President Bush can be hazardous to your dangling participles, but I believe he mainly said he'd fire anyone who broke the law. Still, even I don't buy that Libby had no motive to lie.
And tell me if I'm wrong, but now that the trial is about over, Leonnig and Goldstein for the first time have revealed a key piece of evidence in favor of the defense:
Wells said that Libby honestly believed he learned about Plame for the first time from Russert in a July 10, 2003, conversation -- a month after he was actually told about her by the vice president, Libby later acknowledged. Wells emphasized to the jury that Russert first told the FBI that he couldn't completely rule out discussing the subject with Libby because he talks to so many people.
"That's reasonable doubt right there," Wells said of an FBI agent's notes. "If you say, 'I believe Mr. Russert beyond a reasonable doubt,' my client's life would be destroyed. His reputation would be destroyed."
The Washington Post--last week's news today!
Bonus freebie coverage from Maid Marion at Just One Minute: Hey, it's blogs, we can use whatever names we like. Commenter Maid Marion has attended many court sessions and has a long wrapup today, including observations about the jury. A brief excerpt:
4) #3 juror (white female w/long blonde hair) was nodding her head in agreement when Wells said that “every witness had memory problems.” Throughout most of the trial proceedings I’ve viewed these last two weeks, the jury has been virtually expressionless. Today was different, as I’ve noted above.
What she notes is that several jurors are reacting to Wells:
Because Wells comes across as so likeable, sincere, and wanting to relate directly to the jurors, they immediately open up their ears. When he said “I’ve got a homework assignment for you” they were ready to oblige! Pencils were readied. It was great! They dutifully jotted down the cite.
But who knows if this will translate into an acquittal or a hung jury. I have no idea which way the jury will go. Nobody really does. But thanks to the blogs, in this case the true definition of multilevel fact-checking editors, at least I know what happened at the trial--when it was happening.
Update: Greetings to surfers from Soccer Dad, one of the blogosphere's most generous linkers and a great encouragement to PostWatch. And it doesn't hurt that he has a magnificent blog.