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Prosecutors Call Libby A Liar; Defense Says He's Got A Bad Memory

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WASHINGTON (AP)_ Prosecutors told the jury Tuesday that former White House aide I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby made up a ludicrous lie to save his job during the CIA leak investigation. But defense attorneys said he behaved like an innocent man with a bad memory.

The federal court jurors remained alert and attentive as four lawyers summarized the Libby case in more than six hours of closing arguments. They displayed lists, documents and testimony transcripts and played video and audio clips to help jurors concentrate as they reviewed 14 days of evidence in repetitive, almost line-by-line detail.

The arguments built to a late afternoon crescendo as defense attorney Theodore Wells, whose voice rose and fell dramatically, choked back a sob as he asked the jurors to acquit his client no matter how they ``may feel about the war in Iraq or the Bush administration.''

Wells was followed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, speaking a mile-a-minute and lacing his rebuttal to the defense with sarcasm. Fitzgerald said that, by lying, Libby ``threw sand in the eyes of the FBI investigators and the grand jury'' trying to find out if someone leaked classified information that could endanger lives.

Wells and Fitzgerald clashed over how important Libby and his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, considered CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson. The whole case began with a Robert Novak column on July 14, 2003, which disclosed that Plame worked at CIA and that she suggested Wilson go to Niger in 2002.

Wilson said his trip debunked a report that Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons. He said Cheney would have heard Wilson's conclusions long before President Bush cited the report as a justification for war, because Cheney's questions had prompted the trip.

``The wheels were falling off the Bush administration'' in the summer of 2003, Wells thundered. How could Libby, serving Cheney as both chief of staff and national security adviser, remember Plame's job when 100,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and hadn't found the weapons of mass destruction the administration had cited to justify the war? Wells asked.

``And he still had his day job of trying to prevent another 9/11'' terrorist attack.

Wells said Plame's job wasn't the sort of information someone would remember months after hearing it if he'd just spent the intervening time basking on a beach. ``All of us misremember things,'' Wells said. ``It's happened to everybody.''

Fitzgerald countered that ``the question of who sent him was hugely important'' to Cheney and Libby, because ``there was a cloud over Cheney.'' After Wilson's criticism, the first talking points Cheney's office sent to the White House press secretary said Cheney didn't send Wilson, didn't know he went to Niger and never got his report, Fitzgerald noted.

Fitzgerald said CIA briefer Craig Schmoll's notes show that on June 14 and July 14, amid his briefings about national security issues and terrorist threats, Cheney and Libby asked questions related to Plame.

Cheney also dictated talking points and on-the-record statements he wanted Libby to deliver personally to reporters. ``There was an obsession'' in the vice president's office with the Wilson matter, Fitzgerald argued. Cheney clipped Wilson's opinion column and wrote questions on it.

Wells argued that the talking points didn't mention Plame specifically, and defense attorney William Jeffress pointed out that six reporters talked to Libby during this period but didn't recall his mentioning Plame.

Fitzgerald came back with the testimony of Cheney's top press aide Cathie Martin that ``the best way to leak something is to tell one person.'' Libby and Cheney picked Judith Miller of The New York Times and that's why Libby took two hours for her during the busy week after Wilson's criticism was published, Fitzgerald argued.

Fitzgerald noted that a CIA official told Libby the leak of a covert operative's name could cost the lives of CIA sources in other countries. Even if you spent three months on a beach, you should remember if there's a chance something you did could cost lives, Fitzgerald told the jury.

Libby is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters concerning Plame and obstructing the leak investigation.

Libby says he first learned about Plame's job from Cheney on June 11 but in the press of serving as chief of staff and national security adviser to Cheney during the war, he forgot that and was surprised when NBC reporter Tim Russert told him that on July 10 or 11. Thereafter he says he only told reporters he'd heard about the job from reporters and couldn't confirm it.

Russert testified he and Libby never discussed Plame. Miller and Matt Cooper, formerly of Time magazine, testified Libby told them where she worked.

Wells connected his defense of Libby to his sensational charge on opening day that Libby was being made a scapegoat by the White House to protect Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove. When the White House exonerated Rove but wouldn't clear Libby, Wells said, Libby took his appeal for a statement clearing him to three officials including finally Cheney.

``He did what only an innocent person would do,'' Wells said. Cheney jotted a note ordering the press secretary to clear Libby and not sacrifice him.

Later, Wells noted that Libby, who a colleague testified relies on his notes to supplement his bad memory, has only one note of any conversation about Plame. Wells said it indicates that Cheney told Libby about Plame's job on June 11.

``If he's such a bad guy, he should have put the note in a trashcan,'' Wells said.

The prosecutors said Libby needed to make up a lie to prevent being fired for discussing classified information with reporters so, as Zeidenberg put it, he concocted the ``ludicrous'' story about Russert ``because that would make his conduct innocuous, not criminal.''

There was much debate over the memory of the government's witnesses. Fitzgerald, however, argued that jurors didn't even need Russert's testimony to convict Libby for saying he was surprised when Russert told him about Plame.

Fitzgerald noted that eight witnesses, including an undersecretary of state, two CIA officials, two top Cheney aides, two reporters and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said they discussed Wilson's wife with Libby between June 11 and July 10 or 11 when Libby talked to Russert.

The defense questioned whether they accurately remembered what was said about Plame.

``All misremembering the same way?'' Fitzgerald scoffed.

The five felonies could carry a top penalty for Libby of 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. Federal sentencing guidelines, however, call for a far lighter sentence for a first offender.
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