Focus Is on Cheney at Libby Trial

A week of testimony in the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, reveals more about the defense strategy, and about the way the vice president's office works behind closed doors.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, Britain's department of happiness.

But first, we go into the Lewis Libby trial is over. Mr. Libby, who was Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff is charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury about leaking the name of CIA agent Valeria Plame. According to the prosecution, the leak was part of efforts to discredit Ms. Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, who had been openly critical of the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq. The defense argues the Mr. Libby was made the fall guy to protect the president's top political aid Karl Rove. NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg has been covering the trial and joins us in our studios. Nina, thanks for being with us.

NINA TOTENBERG: My pleasure.

SIMON: And how exactly is Mr. Libby claiming that he was essentially hung out to dry?

TOTENBERG: Well, on day one of the trial, we hear Libby's defense lawyers outline what they're going to tell the jury in the weeks to come. And it's not just that Libby misremembered events when he testified to the grand jury. It's not just that he had a huge plate of, you know, terrorism and horrible things to worry about. It's much more. It's that he was set up as a scapegoat to protect Karl Rove who was the lifeblood of the Republican Party, as the defense lawyer put it. Now it's really not clear how one is connected to the other, but they say that's what their defense is and that's what we're going to hear.

SIMON: What's the testimony, so far, been?

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, in some ways this is a lose/lose proposition for the administration. Scooter Libby could be acquitted, but that doesn't change the fact that we are being invited into the sausage factory to see how the sausage is made at the White House. We heard - we've heard so far from four witnesses, including the former number three at the state department, the former number three at the CIA. Also, the CIA official who briefed Libby every day and Vice President Cheney's former press officer. And they all testified that they had told Libby about Valerie Plame's identity.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the courtroom appearance of the vice president's former press officer, Cathie Martin. She lifted the veil quite a bit on the operations of the vice president's office, didn't she?

TOTENBERG: Yes, she did. And she gave the court quite a behind the scenes view of how the vice president's office sought to manipulate the press. Now, of course, all White House's - all politicians do this, this is their lifeblood. But we saw that, through her words, that the vice president was personally involved and quite consumed with rebutting Ambassador Wilson's charges, which he thought were outrageous. He said he didn't know that Ambassador Wilson had gone on the trip to Niger, that he'd - Wilson said he thought he was sent on by the vice president. And Cheney felt that he was being maligned, that he didn't know about it, and he wanted the public to know about it. But in an office where they don't normally return press calls and aren't very cooperative, this is a hard sell.

SIMON: A lot of lawyer power in that courtroom?

TOTENBERG: Well at the prosecution table there are usually about four lawyers and a couple of FBI agents, investigators, people like that. On the other side, on Libby's side, they tell us that they've raised over three million dollars, but that wouldn't begin to pay for what I'm - just can see with my own bare eyes as it were. I can see 11 lawyers from 3 different major law firms. And you've got to know that for every one of those 11 there are probably 3 or 4 back at the office toiling away.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm trying to run the math.

TOTENBERG: It's humongous. And these are very good lawyers, all of them -prosecutors and defense. So a lot of lawyer power.

SIMON: You've called this trial a good example of what a small town Washington, D.C. can be.

TOTENBERG: Well, it really is and my favorite - one of the jurors, who's a retired postal worker. In the jury selection process, she told the judge that one of her sons had been - had pled guilty to a drug charge. And the judge said to her, well how much time did he get? And she said, you ought to know judge, you sentenced him.

SIMON: Well, but they still managed to find 12 people, right?

TOTENBERG: Twelve people and four alternates.

SIMON: NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Scott.

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