Cheney on Trial
In his closing argument at the trial, Fitzgerald zeroed in on Cheney. Noting that Wells had accused the prosecution of placing a "cloud" over the Vice President, Fitzgerald declared, "There is a cloud over what the Vice President did." Cheney's and Libby's actions had caused Fitzgerald to be suspicious of Cheney's involvement in the leak episode. "We didn't put that cloud there," Fitzgerald told the jury. "That cloud remains because the defendant has obstructed justice and lied about what happened." It seemed that Fitzgerald believed he had not been able to sort out fully Cheney's participation because Libby misled the investigators. Libby was no fall guy for Rove, Fitzgerald was saying; he covered up for Cheney. And this "cloud," Fitzgerald noted, continued to rest above the White House. "Don't you think," Fitzgerald asked the jurors, "the FBI, the grand jury, the American people are entitled to a straight answer" about who did what in the leak episode?
The straight answer never came. After Valerie Wilson's cover was blown, outraged Congressional Democrats demanded a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate and uncover what had transpired--but they miscalculated. Fitzgerald's job was not to ascertain the full truth but to determine if a crime had been committed and if anyone ought to be prosecuted. That mission drove him to subpoena journalists and even imprison Judith Miller for eighty-five days--establishing what could be a troubling precedent for other prosecutors and reporters. But from his perspective, he had little choice. Fitzgerald believed Cheney's top aide had lied to the FBI and a grand jury to protect himself and possibly the Vice President (and Fitzgerald suspected Rove had also misled the investigators). Fitzgerald felt he couldn't walk away from this perjury, even if he could not indict anyone for the actual leak, and he concluded that he needed the testimony of several reporters to determine if Cheney's chief of staff had tried to stonewall a criminal investigation related to a national security matter.
Still, Fitzgerald's investigation and the subsequent trial were not designed to provide the public with the complete story. The public, for example, has not learned how Rove managed to keep his job; what Bush did or did not know about Rove's part in the leak; or what Bush and Cheney told Fitzgerald when he questioned them.
At the end of his closing argument, Wells got weepy. After declaring Libby to be the victim of a run-amok prosecutor who had relied on witnesses with faulty memories, he asked the jurors, "Give him back to me. Just give him back." He choked back a sob. Responding to Wells's melodrama, Fitzgerald argued to the jury that Libby "stole the truth from the judicial system.... Your verdict can give truth back."
After ten days of deliberation, the jurors gave Fitzgerald what he desired. Though the case--as lawyers on both sides repeatedly stated--was not about the Iraq War and the White House's credibility, it was about the truthfulness of Cheney's senior aide, whose lies emerged from the Administration's effort to defend itself from the charge it had misled the nation into war. The verdict that now hangs over Scooter Libby is also a cloud that darkens the sky above the President and the Vice President.