Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lawyers Paint Libby As Sacrificial Lamb

'Scooter' Libby Laywers Paint Former Aide As Sacrificial Lamb in CIA Leak Case

WASHINGTON Jan 23, 2007 (AP)— Attorneys for former White House aide "Scooter" Libby said Tuesday that Bush administration officials tried to blame him for the leak of a CIA operative's name to cover up for presidential adviser Karl Rove's own disclosures.

The prosecution insisted that it was Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who lied about his role in the case.

As the trial opened with a preview of each side's case, it was clear that the jury will be tasked with sorting through conflicting statements.

Attorney Theodore Wells, in the opening statements of I. Lewis Libby's perjury trial, said Libby went to Cheney in 2003 and complained that the White House was subtly blaming him for leaking Valerie Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.

"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Wells said, recalling the conversation between Libby and Cheney. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected."

Wells' comments followed an opening statement by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who said that the case arose as the White House was "under direct attack" and pushed back against criticism by former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Fitzgerald said Cheney told Libby in 2003 that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and Libby spread that information to reporters. When that information got out, it triggered a federal investigation.

"But when the FBI and grand jury asked about what the defendant did," Fitzgerald said, "he made up a story."

Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction. He told investigators he was surprised to learn Wilson's wife's identity from NBC News reporter Tim Russert, not from the vice president. But Fitzgerald told jurors that was clearly a lie because Libby had already been discussing the matter inside and outside of the White House.

"You can't learn something on Thursday that you're giving out on Monday," Fitzgerald said.

Libby says he didn't lie but was simply bogged down by national security issues and couldn't remember details of what he told reporters about Plame.

Fitzgerald believes Libby feared political embarrassment and worried he might lose his job for discussing classified information with reporters. President Bush originally threatened to fire anyone who disclosed such information so, Fitzgerald says Libby had a reason to lie.

The jury of nine women and three men will spend more than a month listening to conflicting statements from members of the Bush administration and journalists, trying to sort out the truth.

Libby's defense attorneys have spent days trying to weed critics of the Bush administration out of the jury pool. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 9-to-1, that wasn't easy. The final panel contains four people who criticized or doubted the administration's war policies.

Fitzgerald told jurors that the trial isn't about the war but that the case will be set against the backdrop of the first months of the invasion. He is expected to tell jurors that the White House was preoccupied with discrediting Wilson's criticisms, so it's unlikely Libby forgot that effort.

Libby plans to testify and tell jurors he had many other issues on his mind at the time, such as terrorist threats and emerging nuclear programs overseas.

Attorneys say they expect Cheney to testify for the defense. Historians say that would be a first for a sitting vice president.


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