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Ex-Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby Convicted of Perjury, Obstruction in CIA Leak Trial

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Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby is facing up to 25 years in prison following his conviction on Tuesday in the CIA leak case. Jurors found Libby guilty of four felony counts of making false statements to the FBI, lying to a grand jury and obstructing a probe into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal nearly two decades ago. We get reaction from investigative journalist Murray Waas and blogger and author Marcy Wheeler. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, is facing up to 25 years in prison following his conviction on Tuesday in the CIA leak case. Jurors found Libby guilty of four felony counts, of making false statements to the FBI, lying to a grand jury and obstructing a probe into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal nearly two decades ago.

After the verdict was announced, one juror named Denis Collins said jurors felt Libby was the fall guy for the White House. Collins told reporters, “It was said a number of times: 'What are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where’s — you know, where are these other guys?’” Valerie Plame’s husband Joseph Wilson said, “The president and the vice president owe the country a much broader explanation of their own actions at this time.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics.” This is Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: The jury was obviously convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had lied and obstructed justice in a serious matter. The results are actually sad. It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official, a person who worked in the Office of Vice President, obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that had not happened, but it did.

AMY GOODMAN: Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was also asked whether he would seek indictments of any other White House officials. During the trial, Fitzgerald had said, “There is a cloud over the vice president, a cloud over the White House, over what happened.”

PATRICK FITZGERALD: I do not expect to file any further charges. But, basically, the investigation was inactive prior to the trial. I would not expect to see any further charges filed. We’re all going back to our day jobs. If information comes to light or new information comes to us that would warrant us taking some action, we will, of course, do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, supporters of Libby are already calling on President Bush to issue a pardon. Within two-and-a-half hours of the verdict, the National Review published an editorial entitled “Pardon Libby.” The magazine said Libby was the target of a politicized prosecution. Defense attorney Theodore Wells said Libby will first seek a new trial.

THEODORE WELLS: We are very disappointed in the verdict of the jurors. This jury deliberated for approximately 10 days. Despite our disappointment in the jurors’ verdict, we believe in the American justice system, and we believe in the jury system. We intend to file a motion for a new trial, and if that is denied, we will appeal the conviction. And we have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated. We believe, as we said at the time of his indictment, that he is totally innocent, totally innocent, and that he did not do anything wrong. And we intend to keep fighting to establish his innocence.

AMY GOODMAN: Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s attorney Theodore Wells. Joining us now in Washington, D.C., is Marcy Wheeler. She has closely followed the Libby trial, writes for the political blog, The Next Hurrah. She is the author of the new book, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Joining us by phone from Washington, D.C., is veteran investigative journalist Murray Waas of the National Journal. He is editor of the upcoming book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, scheduled to be released in April by Union Square Press. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Marcy Wheeler, were you surprised by the verdict yesterday?

MARCY WHEELER: Not at all. I had said that Scooter Libby would be found guilty of three out of five of the charges. In the last couple of days, it became clear that the jury was taking another one of the charges, the Matt Cooper charge, seriously. So I think it became clear in the last couple of days that we would find a guilty charge on four out of the five charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, how significant is this verdict?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, what we have in the verdict, in and of itself, we have the chief of staff to the vice president of the United States, perhaps the single most powerful top aide to, I think it can be argued, the most powerful vice president in the country’s history being found guilty of four felonies — you know, obstruction, perjury charges, which are about as serious as they get, lying to grand jury, lying to the FBI, obstructing to cover up another cover-up, in effect. People kind of forget that.

What Libby was doing was he was lying about how he was engaging another cover-up, which was how to manipulate — which was allegedly — or we can not say “allegedly,” we don’t have to say that anymore — how the use of intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq and that information, the statements made by the vice president and the president leading up to the war with Iraq, were false. So having been caught doing that or afraid of being caught doing that, Libby then essentially lied to cover that up, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray, what do you say to those who make the argument that Lewis “Scooter” Libby did not commit a crime to begin with, he just lied about what he had done, which wasn’t a crime?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, if everybody that — it’s interesting to see those statements made by law-and-order conservatives. It’s interesting to see those statements made by people who talk about the necessity of spreading the rule of law around the globe. These are, simply put, serious felonies. If you’re going to have a judicial system, a legal system, where people can go in and lie, they can lie to the FBI — you know, I think Fitzgerald made this case — if they can lie to the FBI, if they can lie to a grand jury, if they can obstruct justice, if people can do these things, why even have a legal system? Because at the end of the day, it’s not going to work. If everybody can lie and not worry about being caught and sent to jail, then we’re not going to have a legal system that’s ever going to work. And the most basic elements of a legal system, every single type of case, whether it’s a medical malpractice case, a criminal case, the worst case, anything, we’re not going have — we might as well not have a legal system at that point. So what Fitzgerald was saying is, the underlying issue aside, you know, we have to stand up. This was not some abstraction. This was whether Congress was ever going to be told the truth in the future, whether juries were going to be told the truth by defendants, by plaintiffs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to break. But we’re going to come back to this discussion with Murray Waas and Marcy Wheeler. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Murray Waas, investigative journalist with the National Journal. He’s writing a book on the Scooter Libby case. We’re also joined by Marcy Wheeler, author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. She writes on the political blog, The Next Hurrah. Marcy, you look at how the media covers this. And also, of course, this is a case of how intimately connected the media is with the establishment in Washington. Can you talk about what this case showed?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, one of the things that came out over the course of the trial was the degree to which the Vice President’s Office really played the media and really used the media to get their opinions out, to get their side of the story out. And that’s really what a lot of the story is about. I mean, both in the lead-up to the war and actually leaking Valerie Plame’s identity, in the investigative phase of the case where journalists got and published leaks, that kind of put the scent off people like Karl Rove. And in the coverage of the case itself, I think the media really was telling the story that the administration wanted, and that made it very easy for the administration to accomplish their goals.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, what do you think was most revealing about the media through this trial? What surprised you, or perhaps not surprised you, but proved what you’ve thought about the media?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, maybe I’ve seen enough over the years not to be surprised at much. But I kind of disagree with Marcy’s statement or general statement, when she refers to the media, as in everybody who works in — it’s unclear what she means, whether she means print journalists like me or — I think each journalist is a person into themselves. You know, I mean, the media could mean Amy Goodman, it could mean Murray Waas. It’s kind of like generalizing about bloggers and saying the Vice President’s Office was trying to use bloggers. The White House often does use bloggers. So I would hope we can step away from the use of this broad term, because it’s not a monolith, and kind of the only hope for, quote/unquote, the “monolithic media” is it not being monolithic anymore. And bloggers, as they step more into the mainstream, are part of the media.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray, what about the relationship with the elite media, like Tim Russert, of course, of NBC, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, Judith Miller of The New York Times? What was revealed in this trial about their relationships with the White House?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, you really got behind the scenes. And you pulled the curtain back, and you got to see — it wasn’t the intent of the trial. The intent of the trial was to try one person for obstruction and perjury and making false statements. But you got to see the interactions. You got to see how — the interaction between, you know, some in the elite media and the White House — in this case, the Office of the Vice President — how things go on behind the scenes. And when you look at Judith Miller and how she was manipulated, and you look at some of the other journalists — Matt Cooper — it doesn’t make you feel good.

Matt Cooper, in particular, was extraordinarily interesting, because there was a great article on Legal Times, for example, that just walked through the journalistic ethic miscues that he committed while working on this story.

AMY GOODMAN: Specifically?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, he used, for example, Libby as a — Libby was talking to him on background or off the record or whatever, and he used him as a corroborating source, or he used information without verifying it. But one of the things these guys should have done is just have considered outright whether to publish this information at all.

And Bob Novak — taking it back to Bob Novak, whether he should have or shouldn’t have revealed the name of Valerie Plame, the story for most of us would have become or should have become the effort by the Office of Vice President to smear the wife of a critic of the war and out a CIA operative.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, interestingly, that which breaks a law, outing an undercover CIA operative, that was never charged.

MURRAY WAAS: Yeah. I mean, people keep bringing back that this so-called underlying crime wasn’t charged, but there wasn’t — again, I’d really like to talk to this issue about how important to the legal and judicial system obstruction, perjury, making false statements is. I’ve been working on a story about the big medical institution, where there’s repeated instances where they forged records, they forged medical records. They have doctors, experts, go in and lie. They give inducements. Witnesses who are going to testify, you know, against them, they give them things in exchange for not testifying. And so, if we’re going to allow — if people are going to allow in the legal system these obstructive-type activities, nobody is going to get their fair day in court. The judicial system, the legal system, is just not going to work. And what Fitzgerald has articulated, I think, fairly well is the importance of witnesses coming in and telling the truth. I mean, they’re very serious offenses, perjury and obstruction.

And even if one doesn’t believe that Scooter Libby committed a crime in outing Valerie Plame, in and of itself, why else did he lie? Well, perhaps he lied as part of a political cover-up. Perhaps he lied to protect Vice President Cheney. One thing which conservatives make a big issue about and Congress does, as well, is whether people should have security clearances — whether someone should continue even to have a security clearance who leaks the name of a CIA agent. So let’s say there wasn’t a crime and Fitzgerald would have had Libby testify truthfully, simply strip Libby and others in the White House of the security clearance. The government needs to know, I believe, the accurate and correct information, whether or not to revoke somebody’s security clearance. President Bush said he was going to fire anybody who leaked this information. At the end of the day, he fired nobody. He didn’t keep his word in that regard. But again, Fitzgerald, a conservative guy, a conservative prosecutor — you know, on some level, if the president wanted to keep his word, the president of the United States deserves accurate information in which to make a decision whether to hire or fire someone.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, let me ask you about this comment of one of the jurors, Denis Collins, who used to write for The Washington Post, that Libby was the fall guy, and why didn’t this go higher? Why weren’t more people being tried? What about Cheney? What about Karl Rove?

MARCY WHEELER: Look, Libby was successful at being the fall guy. He was absolutely successful at protecting Vice President Cheney. And I think that’s what the outrage should be at this point, because over the course of the trial Fitzgerald made it clear that Vice President Cheney went and found out where Valerie Plame worked. He told Scooter Libby. He was obsessing about Joe Wilson and took notes on the op-ed. Scooter Libby basically told him what his cover story was before the investigation started. Vice President Cheney was involved in this from day one, and he was really the architect of the smear against the Wilsons, and yet he’s going to go free. He’s not going to pay any price for this. And that, I think, is — that’s what the story should be. It’s that Scooter Libby agreed, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that his friends were trying to tell him, you know, don’t take the fall for Vice President Cheney. He did it. So long as he keeps quiet, so long as he does his appeal, whatever legal means he can do to try and stay out of jail, and probably gets a pardon, that means that the vice president is above the law. And that’s, I think, what we should be really concerned about at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: The National Review, Murray Waas, has said, “Pardon Libby.” Do you think that’s in the cards?

MURRAY WAAS: I think it’s definitely in the cards. I mean, I think the issue here, whether it’s a Democratic administration or a Republican administration, conservative or liberal, is since Watergate we literally have institutionalized the means by which the executive branch and people working for the president and the vice president, and the president and the vice president themselves and their administrations, can be above the law. And there’s no legal accountability for crime.

After Watergate, the next big presidential scandal, Iran-Contra, what they did is — for example, to go back to Watergate, one of the reasons Nixon got impeached is because he obstructed justice by raising hush money, secretly raising hush money, and then being kind of dumb enough to tape himself talking about raising the hush money. So instead, there’s — political people close to an administration can set up a legal defense fund in the open and do that legally. And so, a defendant or someone who’s a top aide to the vice president or president, like Scooter Libby, can know they’re going to be taken care of, that they can — in this case, the press reports are right. According to information that Libby’s team himself had put out, he had $3 million raised for him. But ultimately, the ultimate power is the pardon power.

And so, in Iran-Contra, then first President Bush on Christmas Eve, right before he was leaving, pardoned virtually every outstanding defendant before the office of then-Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh. In effect, he closed down Walsh’s investigation, not only of President Reagan and President Bush’s aides, but he foreclosed an investigation — President Bush foreclosed an investigation that was ongoing about himself.

And so, at the end of the day, if — so you have this system in place that’s become kind of like a playbook, post-Watergate playbook. And if you keep telling defendants, aides to the vice president, president, “Don’t testify against the higher-ups, us, we’ll give you a pardon,” you basically circumvent the legal system, you circumvent the rule of law, you circumvent the constitution of this country. And you put into almost like a permanence — you set up this permanent infrastructure and playbook by which a president, whether Democrat or Republican, can then essentially violate the law with impunity. And so, this development, this post-Watergate development, is historically, I would think, very harmful to the political fabric of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. Murray Waas, investigative journalist, is coming out with a book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, scheduled to be released in April. And I also want to thank Marcy Wheeler, who is author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy, writes for the political blog, The Next Hurrah.

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