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Context of 'October 26, 2006: Prosecutor Challenges Memory Expert’s Testimony in Pre-Trial Hearing'

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Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment.Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment. [Source: CNN / Flickr]Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; CNN, 5/14/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). [New York Times, 10/28/2005; Nation, 3/16/2007]
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 10/30/2005] (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) [Raw Story, 11/2/2005] Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]

Entity Tags: John Hannah, Judith Miller, John D. Rockefeller, John R. Bolton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jeralyn Merritt, Frederick Fleitz, Central Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby’s lawyers reveal a detailed outline of their planned defense strategy to combat government charges that their client committed perjury and obstructed justice (see October 28, 2005). Libby’s lawyers intend to offer what some call a “memory defense,” a claim that Libby did not deliberately lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but instead was a victim of his own confusion and faulty memory, a condition brought on by his preoccupation with national security matters. Libby’s lawyers have asked for a huge number of highly classified documents (see January 23, 2006 and January 31, 2006) to support his claim of being overworked due to his involvement in the administration’s battle against terrorism and other threats against the nation. The documents, the lawyers claim in a court filing, “are material to establishing that any misstatements he may have made were the result of confusion, mistake, and faulty memory resulting from his immersion in other, more significant matters, rather than deliberate lies.” Libby’s conversations with reporters during the summer of 2003 about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10 or 11, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) “occurred in the midst of an unending torrent of meetings, briefings, and discussions of far more urgent and sensitive issues, including for example, the detection and prevention of terrorist attacks against the United States,” bringing stability to Iraq, and the spread of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran. Libby was “inundated from early in the morning until late at night with the most sensitive national security issues this country faces,” his lawyers say, and his faulty memory about what he did and did not tell reporters about Plame Wilson is insignificant compared to the other matters that were on his mind. [New York Times, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis Libby’s legal team announces that it intends to call a psychology professor to testify that Libby did not deliberately lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and to the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but merely made misstatements due to memory failure. In a court filing, the lawyers write, “Mr. Libby will show that the snippets of conversation at issue in this case took place amid a rush of pressing national security matters that commanded his attention throughout his long and stressful work day” (see January 31, 2006). The witness is Robert Bjork, a memory expert from UCLA. The lawyers say Bjork will explain that, contrary to what jurors may think, “memory does not function like a tape recorder, with memories recorded, stored, and played back verbatim.” Cornell University professor Ulric Neisser says the so-called “memory defense” that Libby’s team intends to mount may be effective. Referring to Libby’s claim that he learned of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson from a reporter (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), and July 10 or 11, 2003), Neisser says, “If everything hinges on who he learned it from first, people do forget that stuff all the time.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/31/2006 pdf file; Associated Press, 8/1/2006; New York Sun, 8/1/2006] Criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, following the trial at the progressive blog TalkLeft, calls the use of a memory expert entirely appropriate, but notes: “The expert only should be allowed to explain the principles of memory and memory failure to the jury. He should not be allowed to render an opinion as to whether Libby’s memory failed since that’s the ultimate question for the jury to decide.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Bjork, Ulric Neisser

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald files a motion opposing the Libby defense team’s intention to call a “memory expert” to testify on Libby’s behalf (see July 31, 2006). Libby’s lawyers intend to argue that their client, indicted felon and former White House aide Lewis Libby, has a faulty memory (see January 31, 2006), and it was a series of memory lapses that caused him to make false statements to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about his outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald opposes the testimony of UCLA professor Robert Bjork, not because of problems with Bjork’s expertise in the field of human memory, but because “the defendant cannot meet his burden as the proponent of the evidence of establishing that the testimony will assist the jury in understanding or determining any of the facts at issue in this case.… To the contrary, there are strong reasons to believe that the proffered testimony may confuse, mislead, and unduly influence the jury.” Juries are often asked to evaluate a defendant’s memory in the course of a criminal trial, and it is “unusual” to present such testimony in the furtherance of a criminal defense, Fitzgerald asserts. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/7/2006 pdf file] In November, the judge will disallow Bjork’s testimony (see November 2, 2006).

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Robert Bjork

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. [Source: Injustice Busters (.org)]The Libby defense team presents a memory expert in a pre-trial hearing, but special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dismantles her credibility and her expertise during the proceedings. Lewis Libby’s lawyers intend to argue that the pressure of his work during his stint as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff caused Libby to “misremember” conversations he had with reporters about former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 31, 2006), and therefore he cannot be guilty of perjury or obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005). Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of criminology and psychology at the University of California at Irvine, testifies in support of a motion by Libby’s lawyers that Dr. Robert Bjork, chairman of the UCLA psychology department, be allowed to testify in Libby’s defense during the actual trial (see July 31, 2006). For three hours, Fitzgerald conducts what MSNBC terms a “blistering” questioning session of Loftus, causing her to admit that some of her own findings about what juries know about memory are faulty, and that her own research may be flawed. [MSNBC, 10/26/2006; Jurist, 10/26/2006; Washington Post, 10/27/2006]
Uses Own Book to Disprove Claims - Fitzgerald quotes Loftus’s own book, Witness for the Defense, asking how she might try to sway a jury if she were to testify. Loftus had written that, “using my arsenal of subtle psychological tools” she could make an impression on a jury about her perception about guilt or innocence. Fitzgerald shows Loftus a line in her book that expressed doubts about research she had just cited on the stand as proof that Libby needs an expert to educate jurors. Loftus replies, “I don’t know how I let that line slip by.”
Loftus Admits Own Study Flawed - Loftus explains to Judge Reggie Walton that, according to a study she conducted in 2006, most jurors believe memory is like a “tape recorder,” a perception that many memory experts say is untrue. But, using material from Loftus’s study, Fitzgerald forces Loftus to admit that the study is most likely flawed, and that the answers some jurors provided in the study prove just the opposite of what Loftus claimed they said—that jurors can in fact use common sense to ascertain the effects of memory on witness testimony. Her study actually found that only 46 percent of jurors viewed memory as a “tape recorder” or “videotape.” [MSNBC, 10/26/2006; Washington Post, 10/27/2006]
Loftus's Memory Failure - Fitzgerald even catches Loftus in her own embarrasing memory failure; when Loftus insists she has never met Fitzgerald before, he reminds her that he had cross-examined her before, when she was a defense expert and he was prosecuting a case for the US Attorney’s office in New York. [Washington Post, 10/27/2006]
Judge Skeptical of Loftus - Walton is skeptical of Loftus throughout the hearing, and repeatedly questions her about her stance that jurors have trouble using “common sense” to determine the effect of memory on witness testimony. Fitzgerald wants Bjork’s testimony disallowed (see September 7, 2006), saying the testimony of such a memory expert would be “confusing, misleading, and prejudicial,” and would unnecessarily delay the proceedings. [MSNBC, 10/26/2006]
Former Prosecutor: Very 'Difficult to Trip Up an Expert Witness' - Former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes, “I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it is to trip up an expert witness on the stand, especially when you are doing cross-examination of someone who is considered to be a top expert in the field and who has had courtroom experience in prior cases for similar research material.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 10/27/2006] In November, the judge will disallow Bjork’s testimony (see November 2, 2006).

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Loftus, Christy Hardin Smith, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reggie B. Walton, Robert Bjork

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton disallows the attempt by Lewis Libby’s defense team to employ a “memory expert” as an expert witness on Libby’s behalf (see January 31, 2006, July 31, 2006, September 7, 2006, and October 26, 2006). Walton rules that the studies to be cited by the witness, Dr. Robert Bjork, cannot be used because:
bullet the studies mostly pertain to eyewitness identification and don’t fit the facts of the case;
bullet most of the 13 points of “memory principles” Bjork will cite will be easy enough for jurors to figure out on their own; and
bullet Libby did not prove that traditional cross-examination of government witnesses would not be enough to establish the defense’s contention that he suffers from memory lapses (see January 31, 2006).
Walton finds that Bjork’s testimony would be a “waste of time,” and could mislead and confuse a jury. Libby’s attorneys had argued that many jurors have a false impression of how memory works, and a “memory expert” could clarify the matter for them. But Walton writes, “[T]he average juror may not understand the scientific basis and labels attached to causes for memory error.” However, jurors encounter the “frailties of memory” as a “commonplace matter of course” and do not need the guidance of a memory expert to use their “common sense” in the understanding of how memory works. “[T]he jury, for themselves, can assess whether a witness’s recollection of an earlier conversation is accurate.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 11/2/2006 pdf file; MSNBC, 11/2/2006] Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt wonders if Walton “has not just handed Libby his first legitimate issue for appeal… [i]t would have been safer for the government if the judge had allowed the testimony.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Bjork, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reggie B. Walton, Jeralyn Merritt

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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