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11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007: Defense Makes Closing Argument: ‘Give Him Back to Me’

Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his closing argument to the jury, as Judge Reggie Walton looks on.Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his closing argument to the jury, as Judge Reggie Walton looks on. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his team’s closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Wells is following a two-hour closing argument by assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Indignation - Wells begins by saying he finds Zeidenberg’s arguments so incredible, he thinks he might be drunk. “[I]t sure sounded like I said a lot of things I could not deliver on,” he says. Court observer Marcy Wheeler, notating the arguments for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes that while Zeidenberg came across as dispassionate and methodical, Wells’s tone is indignant and charged with emotion. In her book Fair Game, former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson later describes Wells’s demeanor as “over the top, emotional… stalking the courtroom and changing the pitch and cadence of his voice like a seasoned Baptist preacher.” Wells says he will refrain from besmirching Zeidenberg’s character over some of the claims made in his argument, “because I don’t want to be personal.” Wells says that in the grand jury proceedings where Libby allegedly lied under oath (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), lawyers asked “the same question time after time after time,” causing Libby to stumble and misstate himself. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Revives Claim of Libby Being 'Scapegoated' - Wells denies claiming the existence of a White House conspiracy to “scapegoat” Libby in his opening statement (see January 23, 2007), saying he instead merely put into evidence the so-called “meat grinder” note from Vice President Dick Cheney that asserted it would be unfair to protect White House official Karl Rove and sacrifice Libby (see October 4, 2003). (Wells is misstating the contents of the note; it does not mention Rove at all.) Instead of lying, Wells says, Libby was “fight[ing] to get clear,” fighting to save his credibility after White House officials “blew him off.”
'He Said, She Said' - Wells asserts Libby’s complete innocence of all the charges brought against him, and says the entire body of evidence amounts to nothing more than a case of “he said, she said,” indicating that witnesses contradicted and disputed one another. Libby’s recollections, Wells says, are different from those of the reporters who testified for the prosecution. None of the charges pertain to Libby’s conversations with the White House officials who testified for the prosecution. The question hinges on whether Libby lied about his conversations with reporters Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Robert Novak. One of the charges, hinging on Libby’s statements about his conversation with Miller, is no longer in contention. Of the conversation with Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Wells says Libby was truthful when he told Cooper he “didn’t know” whether Plame Wilson was a CIA official or not. The evidence supports Libby’s position, Wells says.
Tim Russert - Wells turns to NBC reporter Tim Russert, whom Libby claimed told him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Russert either lied under oath, Wells says, or had a major memory lapse. Because of what Wells calls Russert’s contradictory testimony, that “in and of itself is reasonable doubt,” and grounds for acquittal. The prosecution is flatly wrong in its timeline of events. It is almost certain Russert read Robert Novak’s column naming Plame Wilson as a CIA official on July 11, 2003, after it was issued on the Associated Press wire (see July 11, 2003), and informed Libby of that fact during their conversation shortly thereafter. Perhaps Russert merely misremembered the dates or the events of his discussion with Libby, Wells says, but his testimony was wrong. “You cannot convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man,” he says. “It would just be fundamentally unfair.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007]
Presumed Innocent - Wells admonishes the jury not to forget that Libby is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Libby didn’t testify (see February 13-14, 2007) because the defense is not required to prove the innocence of the accused. The only question, Wells states, is whether Libby is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the government prove that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Wells says no. He then ticks off the five counts of criminal behavior that Libby is charged with, and links each one of them to either Russert, Cooper, or both. In the instances of both reporters, Wells says, there is doubt as to their recollections and therefore doubt as to whether Libby lied about his conversations with them. Wells calls it “madness… that someone would get charged with this.” If Libby misstated himself, Wells says, he did so with good intentions, with a good-faith effort to tell the truth. There was no “deliberate, purposeful intent to lie.” Wells walks the jury through his version of events, which he says proves Libby told the truth to the best of his ability throughout. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Jeffress - William Jeffress, another defense attorney, takes up the defense’s closing argument after lunch. Wheeler writes that his demeanor is far calmer and reasonable than Wells’s emotional presentation. Jeffress says that common sense alone should lead the jury to find that Libby either told the truth as he understood it or merely misremembered as an honest mistake. The case, he says, is about memory first and foremost. Libby may have misremembered, Jeffress says. The reporters who testified may have misremembered. It is plausible to think that Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status in June 2003, told some government officials, then in the crush of events, forgot about it until July, when he learned it again from Russert. Jeffress walks the jury through a timeline of how reporters learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from various government officials other than Libby, and says some of them, particularly former press secretary Ari Fleischer, may well have lied under oath to cover themselves (see January 29, 2007). Jeffress plays selections from Libby’s grand jury testimony to bolster his arguments about the various reporters learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from other officials.
Motive to Lie? - Libby had no motive to lie, Jeffress asserts. He was never charged with violating the statutes covering the exposure of a covert intelligence agent (see May 10, 2006). No one has testified that they knew without a doubt that Plame Wilson was covert, though the prosecution implied it more than once. If newspaper articles claimed that Plame Wilson was covert, those articles cannot be taken as factual; many articles and op-eds asserted that Plame Wilson was never covert. “It remains far from clear that a law was violated.” And Libby had no way to know that Plame Wilson was herself covert. No one, not Libby or any other government official who exposed Plame Wilson’s identity, lost their job over exposing her CIA status.
Judith Miller - Jeffress again turns to the issue of reporters’ credibility, beginning with Miller. Her testimony (see January 30-31, 2007) was, he says, marred with mistakes and failures of memory, even going so far as testifying, when she spoke to the grand jury, that she had not learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby (see September 30, 2005), and then reversing that claim in subsequent testimony (see October 12, 2005). “Pretty amazing, a person testifying about this after not remembering for two years,” Jeffress observes. As Libby kept no notes of his conversations with Miller, he has only his word to refute her claims. Miller, Jeffress says, is an unreliable witness.
Matthew Cooper - Jeffress, who is running out of time for his portion of the close, turns to Cooper. The difference between Libby’s recollection of events and Cooper’s is, Jeffress asserts, the difference that the government wants the jury to convict on three separate charges. Yet Cooper never wrote about Plame Wilson until after her status was made public. Libby did not serve as a source for his reporting (see July 17, 2003). And as with Miller, Cooper’s testimony proved his failure to keep accurate notes (see January 31, 2007).
Cathie Martin - Jeffress moves quickly to address the testimony of Cathie Martin, then a communications aide to Cheney (see January 25-29, 2007). Martin testified that Libby’s version of his telephone conversation with Cooper was incorrect, and as she was there for the conversation, her testimony is accurate. However, Martin misremembered the number of calls made (two, not one) and did not hear Libby’s side of the conversation accurately. She had no way to know what Cooper was saying on the other end.
Jeffress Concludes - Jeffress concludes by telling the jurors that they are the first people to examine the case “through the lens of a presumption of innocence.” The prosecution, he says, has not proven the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. “It’s not even close.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Wells Continues - Theodore Wells once again addresses the jury. He has less than an hour to finish. He refers back to the “meat grinder” note from Cheney that proves, Wells says, Libby did not leak classified information (see June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wells also revisits his claim that Libby was “left out to dry” by other White House officials. He disputes the timeline of events from the prosecution, again attacks the credibility of prosecution witnesses such as Russert and Fleischer, and calls the prosecution’s evidence “circumstantial” and unconvincing. He even disputes that Libby was involved in any effort to discredit Joseph Wilson, or that there even was an effort among White House officials to do so. As he reaches the end of his time, Wells’s demeanor once again begins to exhibit agitation and indignation, and he calls the idea that Libby, whom he says devoted himself to serving the Bush administration, committed a crime in that service “outrageous.” He revisits the contention that Libby’s memory was faulty and failed him at inopportune times, calls the courtroom a “laboratory of recollection,” and asks the jurors if they can emphathize with Libby’s forgetfulness. He reminds the jury of former Cheney aide John Hannah’s claims to that effect, and his testimony to Libby’s stressful job (see February 13, 2007). Libby, Wells says, deserves the “benefit of the doubt.” Wells admits that Libby “made mistakes” in his grand jury testimony, but those mistakes were honest “misrecollect[ions].” During his final minutes, Wells becomes emotional, breaking into tears and imploring the jurors not to sacrifice Libby because they might disapprove of the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. “This is a man with a wife and two children,” he says. “He is a good person. He’s been under my protection for the past month. I give him to you. Give him back! Give him back to me!” Wells sits down, sobbing. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Washington Post, 2/21/2007; New York Sun, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Marcy Wheeler, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Judith Miller, John Hannah, William Jeffress, Karl C. Rove, Tim Russert, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Theodore Wells, Peter Zeidenberg, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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