- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jurors deliberating on perjury and obstruction charges against former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. yesterday sent a question to the federal judge presiding over the case — but before he could answer it, they told him never mind.

“After further discussion, we are clear on what we need to do,” the jury wrote to U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who had sent his own note seeking clarification about the question. “No further clarification needed. Thank you. We apologize.”

Despite early speculation that the jury had told Judge Walton that they were hopelessly deadlocked, the question, delivered late Tuesday, the fifth day of deliberations, actually involved specific language within the third of five perjury and obstruction of justice counts.

Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of obstruction of justice and of lying to the FBI and a grand jury in 2003 about how he learned the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame and what he said to reporters about the woman.

Mrs. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a fierce critic of the Iraq war.

The third count charges that Mr. Libby lied to the FBI about his conversation with Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper, who said the former chief of staff confirmed for him the identity of Mrs. Plame. But Mr. Libby told the FBI that he had only told Mr. Cooper that he had heard the information from reporters but didn’t know whether it was true.

The jury’s note, sent late Tuesday, set off a flurry of activity, drawing the defense lawyers and federal prosecutors to the courthouse.

“I say, there’s a lot of people here for such a small note,” defense attorney Ted Wells said to Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald yesterday.

More than 50 reporters clogged the halls before Judge Walton’s courtroom opened, and rumors swirled that the jury had reached a verdict. But the mood quickly dissipated as word traveled that the question involved a legal clarification.

Some legal specialists speculated that the question showed a jury carefully working through the evidence and considering each charge. Others, though, said the length of deliberations can give a clue to how the jury is thinking.

But Victoria Toensing, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, said, “We’re reading tea leaves, and nobody with any real trial expertise is going to say what it means.

“I don’t think you can just look at, ‘the jury’s out for five days, what does that mean?’ I think you also have to look at the fact that they sent out for [note pads] and photographs, so it sounds like they’re doing something very methodical, that they’re going through a process they’ve all agreed upon,” she said.

Former state Judge Andrew P. Napolitano said there are only two reasons for the length of deliberations: “The jury is either bitterly divided or is being methodical addressing the evidence.

“There’d be no other reason for it to go six days. I expected the note today to say they were hopelessly deadlocked. It didn’t,” the Fox News analyst said.

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