- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The defense in the CIA leak trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. charged yesterday that senior White House officials sought to protect political strategist Karl Rove by making the former vice presidential chief of staff a “sacrificial lamb.”

During opening arguments in Mr. Libby’s perjury trial, the only criminal case to emerge from a three-year investigation into the 2003 leak of a CIA operative’s identity, attorney Theodore Wells said the White House quickly cleared Mr. Rove of wrongdoing but did not seek to exonerate the vice presidential aide.

Left out in the cold, Mr. Libby went to his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney.

“They’re trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Mr. Wells said, recalling a conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney shortly after the story became public. “I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.”

Mr. Wells also sought to portray Mr. Libby, who faces 30 years in prison if convicted on five counts of lying to FBI agents, as incredibly busy, so busy that he forgot when and how he learned the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame, the wife of a former ambassador who had been critical of the administration’s Iraq invasion.

“He spends his day trying to connect the dots to be sure we don’t have another 9/11,” Mr. Wells said.

But special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in the government’s opening argument that Mr. Libby consciously lied.

“When the FBI and grand jury asked about what the defendant did,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, “he made up a story. … This isn’t a case about having a bad memory; having a bad memory is not a crime. He knowingly and intentionally lied.”

The trial is the culmination of a saga that stretches back to July 2003, when former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq to justify the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Wilson labeled as a lie Mr. Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from Africa.

The prosecutor said that in the days before syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed that Mrs. Plame was married to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby learned her identity from at least five persons — from his boss to members of the CIA and State Department.

Mr. Libby revealed her identity to at least three reporters, but later testified that he had actually learned her identity from them, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Mr. Wells countered that Mr. Libby was too busy dealing with the world’s most serious crises and simply couldn’t recall “three phone calls, three reporters, three months later.”

The defense attorney said Mr. Cheney shared Mr. Libby’s concern that he was being set up to take the fall in an effort to protect Mr. Rove.

“Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder,” Mr. Cheney’s notes from the meeting said, according to Mr. Wells. He added that it was clear the White House wanted to protect Mr. Rove, the architect of both Bush wins in 2000 and 2004 and the 2002 mid-term upset.

Mr. Cheney is expected to testify in the trial, making him the first sitting vice president to take the stand in a criminal case. The proceedings are expected to take four to six weeks.

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