Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lawyers May Keep Libby Off Witness Stand

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 — The jurors deciding the perjury case against I. Lewis Libby Jr. listened to his voice on audiotape for hours today as his lawyers quietly explored a surprise strategy — keeping him off the witness stand — that would insure the jurors would never hear his voice in person.

The audio tapes played in the courtroom were of Mr. Libby’s two grand jury appearances in March 2004 in which he repeatedly testified under oath that he had no recollection of several conversations he held about Valerie Wilson, a Central Intelligence Agency operative. His denials were in sharp contrast to the testimony over the last two weeks of reporters and government officials who were colleagues of Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

But out of the jury’s presence and beyond the four walls of the courtroom, Mr. Libby’s lawyers appeared to be engaging in some gamesmanship over the possibility of not having Mr. Libby testify in his own defense as his lawyers had frequently suggested.

Theodore V. Wells Jr., Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, filed a motion with the court on Monday evening asking about the consequences of keeping his client off the stand. Mr. Wells argued that even if his client decided not to testify, he should be able to argue that any misstatements Mr. Libby made to the grand jury and investigators about Ms. Wilson were caused by confusion because of Mr. Libby’s pressing schedule of important issues.

Judge Reggie B. Walton had asserted earlier in the trial that Mr. Libby’s “faulty memory” defense would require that he take the stand to testify about his distractions.

While testifying could be perilous for Mr. Libby, a decision not to testify is almost by definition a risky strategy for any defendant in a white-collar criminal case. Lawyers assume the jury, especially in a perjury case, wants to hear a personal and plausible explanation directly from the defendant about the statements that prosecutors have charged are false.

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