- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Federal prosecutors wrapped up the monthlong trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. yesterday by scoffing at defense claims that the former vice-presidential aide was the target of a White House conspiracy, but defense attorneys charged that the government had failed to prove a “he said, she said case.”

Libby attorney Theodore Wells told the jury that his client was being set up as the fall guy in the scandal over which a Bush administration official leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in July 2003.

“The clear perception was that he was going to be the scapegoat,” said Mr. Wells, noting that the White House wanted to protect senior political strategist Karl Rove.

Federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg ridiculed defense attorneys’ claims in opening arguments last month that they would prove a White House conspiracy to blame Mr. Libby for the leak.

“Did you hear any evidence about a conspiracy, a White House conspiracy to scapegoat Mr. Libby?” Mr. Zeidenberg asked the jury. “If you think back and draw a blank, I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not a problem with your memory. It’s because their was no such evidence.”

If convicted, Mr. Libby faces 30 years in prison on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to a grand jury. Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald spent $1.6 million and more than three years investigating the accusation, but never charged anyone for leaking Mrs. Plame’s identity.

Mrs. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who set off a firestorm in March 2003 when he wrote an opinion piece refuting a claim by President Bush that Iraq sought nuclear weapons material from Niger. Mr. Wilson has charged that the White House set out to discredit him by saying his wife suggested to her CIA bosses that he take the trip, which Vice President Dick Cheney called a “junket.”

In his closing argument, Mr. Fitzgerald sought to broaden the case to the Iraq war and Mr. Bush’s case for invasion using faulty prewar intelligence. He described a “cloud over the White House” concerning the “16 words in the State of the Union” in which Mr. Bush made the Niger charge.

The case focused on Mr. Libby’s statements under oath that he learned Mrs. Plame’s identity from NBC’s Tim Russert, which the “Meet the Press” moderator denies. Mr. Wells yesterday argued that the case boils down to “he said, she said,” with both Mr. Russert and Mr. Libby simply offering different recollections of the same July 2003 phone call.

Mr. Zeidenberg refuted the argument by reminding jurors that in June and early July 2003, Mr. Libby had nine separate conversations with reporters and administration officials in which he discussed Mrs. Plame.

“Is it conceivable that all those nine witnesses make the same error in their memory?” he asked.

Mr. Fitzgerald ended his closing argument by saying Mr. Libby “threw sand in the eyes of the grand jury and FBI investigators.”

“He had a motive to lie,” he said. “He made up a story and he stuck to it.”

The jury of eight women and four men will hear judge’s instructions today and then begin deliberations.

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