Lewis "Scooter" Libby walks past reporters after Tuesday's verdict.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Lewis "Scooter" Libby walks past reporters after Tuesday's verdict, trailed by defense lawyer Theodore Wells.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Guilty on four out of five counts. That was the verdict in the perjury trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
The verdict capped a Washington scandal that began four years ago. The drama exposed the unsavory workings of the White House PR machine and the Washington media. It encompassed President Bush's justification for the Iraq war and the exposure of an undercover CIA agent.
At the end of all that, Libby was convicted of lying under oath to a grand jury and FBI agents about his role in the affair.
"It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official, a person who worked in the office of the vice president, obstructed justice and lied under oath," said Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor on the case. "We wish that had not happened, but it did."
Fitzgerald said he was gratified by the jury's verdict, and he does not expect to file any more charges in the CIA leak investigation.
Defense lawyer Ted Wells said he is disappointed in the outcome. He plans to file a motion for a new trial. And if that's declined, he said he'll appeal the conviction.
"We believe, as we said at the time of his indictment, that he is totally innocent," Wells said. "Totally innocent."
Libby did not speak outside the courthouse. Nor did he visibly react when the jury announced the verdict in court. His wife cried silently in the front row as the foreperson read out, "guilty ... guilty ... guilty ..." to all but one of the counts.
Juror Denis Collins said the jury had a tremendous amount of sympathy for Libby, but ultimately could not believe that his lies under oath were simply memory lapses, as the defense claimed.
The undercover agent who was exposed was Valerie Plame. Her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had publicly criticized the Bush administration's justification for war with Iraq.
It became clear during the trial that the White House decided to respond to Ambassador Wilson's charges by quietly telling reporters that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative.
It can be a crime to leak an undercover CIA agent's identity, but no one was charged with that offense. Prosecutor Fitzgerald said that does not diminish the seriousness of Libby's crimes.
President Bush expressed sadness for Libby and his family. Vice President Cheney, Libby's onetime boss, said he was very disappointed with the verdict and praised Libby's work as a public servant. Both men refused to comment further because of pending appeals.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted Tuesday on three counts of perjury and a fourth count of obstruction of justice in the investigation of the leak of a CIA agent's name.
A federal jury in Washington, D.C., acquitted Libby on an additional count of lying to the FBI.
Libby had little reaction to the verdict, while his wife cried and hugged his defense lawyers. Libby stood expressionless as the jury left the room. The verdict was read on the 10th day of deliberations. Afterward, Libby did not speak to reporters.
The case against Libby stems from an FBI investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
In the summer of 2003, Plame's husband — former ambassador Joseph Wilson — emerged as a leading critic of the White House's justification for the invasion of Iraq. Wilson had publicly described a fact-finding mission he undertook for the CIA, during which he found no evidence that Iraq had attempted to purchase materials to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
Vice President Cheney, then Libby's boss, was particularly enraged. Cheney told his chief of staff to look for information on Wilson.
Several White House officials leaked the identity of Wilson's wife to reporters, in an attempt to convince them that Wilson was part of a CIA move to distance itself from the White House. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald contended that Libby was one of the officials involved in that effort.
Libby talked about Plame to several reporters — including Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, and Matthew Cooper, then of Time magazine.
Exposing an undercover CIA agent's identity can be a felony. The publication of Plame's name in Robert Novak's syndicated column in July 2003 prompted a formal inquiry.
Libby told FBI investigators that he had learned of Plame's identity from a third journalist, NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. Russert denied that he and Libby had ever talked about Plame. Libby later said that he had forgotten how he'd first heard of Plame. He acknowledged that he had earlier heard of Plame from Cheney.
No one was charged explicitly for the leak. Instead, Fitzgerald argued that Libby had lied under oath to cover up a political embarrassment. At a press conference after the verdict, juror Denis Collins — a former Washington Post reporter — said the jury found that Libby's account of his conversation with Russert was not credible.
The other White House officials involved in leaking Plame's name — including presidential adviser Karl Rove, former State Department official Richard Armitage and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer — cooperated with prosecutors and were not charged.
Fitzgerald said that no additional charges would be filed in the probe. That means that Libby — who was not the source for the original column that outed Plame — will be the only one to face trial.
"The results are actually sad," Fitzgerald said. "It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did."
Libby's lawyers have indicated that they will seek a new trial and, failing that, will appeal. Libby will be allowed to remain free while awaiting sentencing, which is set for June 5.