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Libby's Defense to Begin Monday

An artist's rendering shows Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News, testifying at the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby at federal court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
An artist's rendering shows Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News, testifying at the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby at federal court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

When jury selection began three weeks ago in the case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, journalists reported that time stood still in the courtroom because the clock on the wall was permanently stopped. The next day the hands on the clock were gone, removed by court personnel.

The prosecution has rested in the Libby perjury and obstruction-of-justice trial. The defense is expected to begin making its case Monday.

Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is charged with lying to the grand jury and the FBI to cover up his role in the leak of a CIA operative's identity.

There isn't a lot of flexibility in U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom, but that may not be an entirely bad thing. A case expected to be convoluted and impossible to try has moved along relatively swiftly. That may be due, as well, to the straightforward case that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has constructed.

Ten witnesses in ten days, and most of the time, the defense takes far longer for cross examination. On occasion, the lengthy cross moves from pointed to pointless, and the jury seems to lose interest.

Fitzgerald has used witnesses largely from the Bush administration itself to make the case against Libby. Two White House officials, two from the CIA, and one from the State Department have contradicted his assertion that he didn't know that a leading Bush administration critic was married to a CIA operative, and thus could not have leaked her identity.

In addition, three reporters have contradicted Libby's account of their conversations. Perhaps the most damaging witness was former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

The day after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed piece accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, Libby lunched with the White House press secretary.

Fleischer testified that Libby told him Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA and that the information was very hush-hush. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified that a day later, Libby told her about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity for a second time.

Next week the defense begins putting on its case. The defense lawyers have not said whether Libby or Cheney will testify.

But a slew of reporters and editors have been subpoenaed from The New York Times , NBC, and elsewhere, in hopes of impeaching the credibility of the reporters contradicted Libby.

All this prompted one wag to observe that the reporters covering the trial are the only ones in Washington not on the witness stand.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.