Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Libby trial verdict: guilty

A former high-level White House official has been found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in what has been dubbed "Plamegate" — the potential and opaque scandal surrounding the ousting of former CIA agent Valerie Plame to the public. The trial of I Lewis "Scooter" Libby has drawn much attention from the media and the public; the jury has been deliberating for over a week for a trial that lasted seven weeks. Both The Washington Post and Slate have had extensive coverage.

Washington Post

A federal jury today convicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, finding the vice president's former chief of staff guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, while acquitting him of a single count of lying to the FBI.

The verdict, reached by the 11 jurors on the 10th day of deliberations, culminated the seven-week trial of the highest-ranking White House official to be indicted on criminal charges in modern times.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Libby faces a probable prison term of 1 1/2 to three years when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton June 5.


Cheney is very unhappy with the verdict and hailed Libby's 'public service' achievements — though Libby did slam and accuse the vice president when he was on the stand. Cheney, however, never had to take the stand in court, which is good for political PR as it lessens his appeared involvement in the Plame scandal. Who knows the political effects of the verdict, which will no doubt be exaggerated. It is not the crime Libby committed that is at issue, it is what the crime relates to that's interesting. Many politicos and reporters wish for a story like Watergate, though Plamegate has turned out not to be the vast presidential conspiracy, linked to Iraq, that many fantasized it as.

A key question, along with how this trial plays out politically, is whether Libby is actually the 'fall guy' for this White House's outing — intentionally or not — of a covert government agent. This verdict is in no way a positive note in this administration's already far-from-good record. Hopefully President Bush will not pardon Libby.

Some say there were no ties between Plame's identity being revealed and the fact her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, had been critical of the Bush administration and countered their claims that former Iraqi leader got yellow-cake uranium from Niger in his quest for a nuclear weapon. Wilson and some on the left connected the dots, blaming the Bush administration for punishing Wilson and his wife because of the mutual grudge between the White House and Wilson. The Plame affair has been extremely confusing: at this point it appears that the White House did not knowingly compromise Plame's identity for retribution's sake, but it seemed the opposite only a year ago. One major element of Plamegate has been how journalists have gotten caught up in it.

Judith Miller — disgraced journalist for the New York Times who helped the Bush administration's fraudulent drumbeat to war with Iraq — was among those targeted; she went to jail to protect her sources. Unlike at the state level, there is no federal shield law protecting reporters' rights, a scary notion for many journalists who, in relatively rare cases, need to keep their sources confidential for the sake of them and their sources. Woodward and Bernstein could not have exposed the massive scandal by Nixon that was Watergate without their confidential Deep Throat source — Mark Felt, we now know. The same logic can be applied to any case. Whether a local reporter is investigating city government kick-backs or an international investigative journalist gets the whiff of corruption from their government source, sources who act as whistle-blowers need the reporters to keep them in their confidence, or they cannot often talk at all. There's a great PBS program covering all this with great interviews.

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