NPR logo Call Him 'Scooter,' Libby Lawyer Tells Jurors


Call Him 'Scooter,' Libby Lawyer Tells Jurors

I Lewis Libby's defense lawyers are simply calling him "Scooter" in court. It's a childhood nickname, they told the jurors. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

In a trial, the words lawyers use can be as important as the witnesses they present. Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff is currently on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. The difference between the language of the defense and prosecution has already become apparent.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is accused of obstructing an investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity. But as defense attorney Ted Wells told the jury in his opening statement Tuesday, the defendant will not be referred to as "Lewis" in this courtroom. Instead, Wells said, he'll be known by the nickname that's followed him his whole life: Scooter.

"He's been a Scooter since he was a little baby, because he'd scoot around," Wells said with a smile. "He's always been Scooter, because he's just moving."

As the 56-year-old Libby sat quietly with his legal team, it was not apparent whether this childhood reminiscence had any impact on the jury.

When it came time to talk about Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent whose identity was leaked to the press, defense attorney Wells was considerably more formal. Throughout his opening statement, he referred to her simply as, "The Wife." As in, "He's not out talking about the wife," "There's not a word about the wife" and the emphatic, "Let no one walk away with the impression that the wife was on people's radar screen like some big issue. It was not. She was not."

By referring to Plame as "the wife," the defense team may hope to downplay her significance in Libby's mind. Plame is married to Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who publicly criticized the Bush administration's justification for war with Iraq. Shrinking Plame's identity down to simply that of "the wife" could bolster the defense team's argument: Libby didn't lie under oath to a grand jury and FBI investigators. Rather, he just had so many responsibilities, he simply forgot the sequence of events in the Plame affair.

At the same time, the defense team may run the risk of alienating some of the 9 women who are on the 12-person jury by reducing a CIA agent and expert on weapons of mass destruction to simply "the wife."

When the prosecution talks about the CIA agent at the center of this case, she is "Mrs. Wilson." (In the initial newspaper column that revealed her identity, she was identified as "Valerie Plame." Since her marriage to Ambassador Joseph Wilson in 1998, she has used the name "Valerie Wilson.") Her husband — who is simply "Mr. Wilson" to the defense — takes on added stature with the title "Ambassador Wilson" in the mouths of the prosecutors.