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Profile: Baker Botts

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Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.
Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: Public domain]In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Charleston Post and Courier, 11/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/19/2005; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. [Newsweek, 4/16/2003; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Binladin Group, Baker Botts, International Islamic Relief Organization, Turki al-Faisal, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After former White House official Lewis Libby’s indictment (see October 28, 2005), he retains the services of three of Washington’s most powerful attorneys: Theodore Wells, William Jeffress, and John Cline. [Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] (Cline will not officially join the defense team until mid-November.) [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005] Wells, who has successfully defended other government officials from criminal charges, is “an excellent choice,” according to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt. Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, the law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/3/2005] Cline is an expert on classified government documents; according to former CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, he is “presumably hired to help the defense figure out how to ‘graymail’ the government, that is, force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets.” Stanford University criminal law expert Robert Weisberg says of Cline’s addition to the team: “This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government. This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy.”
Legal Defense Fund Headed by GOP Fundraiser - Shortly after the indictment, Libby’s legal defense fund is created, headed by former GOP finance chief Melvin Sembler, a Florida real estate tycoon. Sembler is a highly successful fundraiser for Republican candidates, and is a close friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lobbyist and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, a close friend of Libby’s, recruited Sembler to head the fund. According to Comstock, Sembler “holds Scooter [Libby] in high esteem as many members of the committee have. We’re confident that Scooter will be exonerated. He has declared he’s innocent.” [Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will note, “Sembler, ironically enough, was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy when the embassy in Rome first received the forged yellowcake documents, whose contents precipitated [Joseph Wilson]‘s trip to Niger and Libby’s legal odyssey.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290] The first contribution to the defense fund comes from Richard Carlson, a former US ambassador, the former president of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. “He spent years in government service,” Carlson will later say of Libby, whom Carlson calls a friend. He “hasn’t made a lot of dough.” The fund will soon raise over $2 million, in part through a Web site, scooterlibby.com (see February 21, 2006). Comstock and former Cheney communications director Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003 and January 23, 2004) are deeply involved in the fund. The fund’s board of directors and advisers is studded with prominent Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp; former senator, lobbyist, and actor Fred Thompson; former senator Alan Simpson; former Education Secretary William Bennett; Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, one of the driving intellectual forces behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross; and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another neoconservative ally of Libby’s. [New York Times, 11/18/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005; Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] Howard Leach and Wayne Berman, two top fundraisers for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, are also part of the defense fund. Comstock tells a New York Times reporter that because both Ross and Woolsey served in the Clinton administration, the Libby defense fund is a bipartisan entity. She adds that the amount of money raised by the fund will not be disclosed: “It’s a private trust fund for a private individual and we haven’t disclosed that.” [New York Times, 11/18/2005; Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005]
Plame Wilson Disappointed in Woolsey's Involvement - Plame Wilson will write of her disappointment that a former CIA director (Woolsey) could come to the defense of someone accused of outing a covert CIA agent. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Dennis Ross, Tucker Carlson, Theodore Wells, Steve Forbes, Barbara Comstock, Wayne Berman, William J. Bennett, William Jeffress, Alan Simpson, Baker Botts, Bernard Lewis, Spencer Abraham, Robert Weisberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mel Sembler, Fred Thompson, Howard Leach, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James A. Baker, John Cline, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Richard Carlson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

November 3, 2005: Libby Pleads Not Guilty

Lawyer Theodore Wells (left) speaks, while Lewis Libby and others look on. Libby is on crutches due to a recent foot injury.Lawyer Theodore Wells (left) speaks, while Lewis Libby and others look on. Libby is on crutches due to a recent foot injury. [Source: Associated Press]Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, pleads not guilty to five felony indictments stemming from the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see October 28, 2005). “With respect, your honor, I plead not guilty,” Libby says. Libby’s trial will be presided over by Judge Reggie Walton of the US District Court of the District of Columbia; Libby is primarily represented by lawyers Ted Wells and William Jeffress, both known for winning acquittals in high-profile white-collar criminal cases. Wells recently won acquittals for former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy and former Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, while Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, where former Secretary of State James Baker, a close friend of the Bush family, is a senior partner. Libby waives his right to a speedy trial; it will take his legal team three months to obtain security clearances and to examine classified information the prosecution must provide to the defense. His lawyers are expected to demand that a large amount of classified information regarding Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status be turned over to them. Jeffress warns reporters that there could be numerous First Amendment “issues” that may produce “protracted litigation” and delay the case, obviously referring to the expected testimony of a number of journalists. Libby’s next court date is February 3, 2006. [Associated Press, 11/3/2005; Washington Post, 11/3/2005] Libby is apparently in good spirits during the proceedings, smiling and even laughing with his lawyers. [Salon, 11/3/2005] Outside the courthouse, Wells tells reporters: “In pleading not guilty, [Libby] has declared to the world that he is innocent. He has declared that intends to fight the charges in the indictment, and he has declared that he wants to clear his good name.” He adds that Libby welcomes a jury trial. Libby does not speak to reporters. [CNN, 11/3/2005] Former prosecutor Michael Madigan, now a well-known defense lawyer, says Wells and Jeffress are excellent choices to represent Libby, but notes that they are joining the case with “one hand tied behind their back” because of what has already transpired in the investigation. They enter the case “with Libby having given two different statements to the FBI and testifying twice to the grand jury, in which he contradicts three reporters and four or five of his friends in the administration,” Madigan says. “If I was entering the case, I would not be really happy to have that situation.… It would be difficult now to say that you didn’t recall certain things when you’ve already testified that you did remember them.” [Washington Post, 11/3/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Donovan, James A. Baker, Baker Botts, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Madigan, William Jeffress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore Wells, Michael Espy, Reggie B. Walton

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jurors begin deliberating in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). In an hour of jury instructions, Judge Reggie Walton tells the jury to focus on the specific charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and “not to let the nature of the case” affect its deliberations. The jury will deliberate every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch, until it has reached a verdict. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] The proceedings begin with a query about a juror’s impartiality towards a lawyer from the firm of Baker Botts, who appeared yesterday with the defense team for closing arguments. Walton determines that no issue exists and turns to jury instructions. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007] Warning the jury to “follow the law” and not “question the law,” Walton explains that Libby is presumed innocent unless the jury finds him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, “then you must find guilty.” He walks the jury through each of the charges, and explains how the jury can find verdicts:
bullet On the single obstruction count, the jury can find Libby guilty if it unanimously decides that any one, or more, of three Libby statements are lies: that NBC reporter Tim Russert asked Libby if Valerie Plame Wilson worked at the CIA and said all the reporters knew it (see July 10 or 11, 2003), that Libby was surprised to learn the Plame Wilson information from Russert, and that Libby told reporter Matthew Cooper he’d heard it from reporters but didn’t know it was true.
bullet On one count of lying to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003), the jury can find Libby guilty if it finds either or both of his statements about the Russert conversation were lies.
bullet On the other count of lying to the FBI, the jury can find Libby guilty if it decides that Libby lied about the content of his conversation with reporter Matt Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003).
bullet On two counts of perjury, the jury will have to weigh a number of statements Libby made to the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about how he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment and whom he told, including four separate statements in one count. [Associated Press, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007]
Because of the lengthy instructions from Walton, the jury deliberates less than five hours today. [CBS News, 1/25/2007] The Associated Press reports the jury makeup as “a former Washington Post reporter, an MIT-trained economist, a retired math teacher, a former museum curator (see February 14, 2007), a law firm accountant, a Web architect, and several retired or current federal workers. There are 10 whites and two blacks—unexpected in a city where blacks outnumber whites more than 2-to-1.” [Associated Press, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Matthew Cooper, Baker Botts, Tim Russert, Reggie B. Walton, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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