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What I saw at the Libby trial

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 Is Scooter Libby the pawn of Dick Cheney? (From the public domain).

This follows up on my January 31, 2007, blog entry on the Scooter Libby trial.

Having finished court early on February 1, I visited the overflow large-screen video viewing room for some of Scooter Libby’s trial at the nearby federal court. I did not catch any testimony, but instead watched arguments over the admissibility of statements to the press by former White House press secretary Scott McClennan, as part of the prosecution’s efforts to counter Libby’s contention that some of the president’s people were trying to make him a scapegoat, or “throw him under the bus” as his lawyer phrased it. 

During that brief forty-five minutes, I experienced nothing earth-shattering. The lead lawyers looked competent; the prosecutor looked like he had some ants in his pants at some points in addressing the judge — and it was not in reaction to the judge’s giving him a hard time, because the judge was not doing that — but I have no basis of comparison to his demeanor during the rest of this case or elsewhere. In any event, the goal of winning a case is persuasion; so long as occational ants in the pants do not interfere with persuasion, then it is not an issue.

Mr. Libby has lawyers from several large corporate law firms defending him, according to the case docket. Unless his lawyers are working pro bono or low bono, his legal bill is huge and mounting. Hourly rates of partners at such law firms often are at $500 or more. Sometimes less is more; this case does not seem to be complex enough to require so many people at the defense table. Even with his more complex case, O.J. Simpson probably won his criminal murder trial despite having had so many lawyers rather than because of it. In any event, even though I am far from fond of the Bush Administration, I am rooting for Libby to win. This prosecution focuses on his alleged lies about when he learned Valerie Plame was a CIA agent.

In any event, as much as I want Bush out of office, I will be more than happy to see Mr. Libby acquitted. His indictment accuses him of lying to law enforcement and the grand jury investigating how and when Valerie Plame’s CIA employment status got leaked to the press. I have uploaded the indictment here. So long as the criminal justice system remains as unjust as it has long been, it will be difficult for me to want to see convictions for such alleged crimes. Even if I conclude that Mr. Libby did tell any or all such lies, I still will feel the same.

In any event, it is curious that Mr. Libby decided to testify before the grand jury. All court witnesses have the option to take the Fifth Amendment, unless their testimony is fully immunized. Similarly, he had no obligation to talk with law enforcement. In any event, what is done is done.

Back to the ongoing Libby trial, for anybody wishing to attend, it is on the sixth floor of the District of Columbia federal courthouse. Camera phones must be checked at the entrance (which is better than the Alexandria federal courthouse, which prohibits all cellphones and palm pilots). The security people tell visitors to remove everything from their pockets before entering a bizarre pod-like area, where they must raise up their hands to be body-scanned. (I have not asked if the scanner leaves any of one’s anatomy to the imagination; the security personnel claim the scanner is safe and emits no x-rays, but then again, some doctors in the 1950’s claimed health benefits of tobacco).

The trial may be viewed in the trial courtroom or in the adjacent overflow viewing room that has a big-screen four-view monitor. People may not enter or exit the main courtroom when proceedings are taking place. I was unable to get a seat in the main courtroom — although I visited the main courtroom during a break — because all but two rows had "reserved" or press signs there. However, an employee of the court told me in the hallway that she would try to assure that people knew that five rows were available to the public. The only reporter I recognized was NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

Meanwhile, here is Valerie Plame’s and Joseph Wilson’s federal civil Complaint against Libby, Rove and Cheney. Jon Katz.