After two weeks of listening to a series of prosecution witnesses in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the jurors finally got to hear the defendant. He didn’t take the stand. That may happen later. On Monday, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began playing eight hours of audio tapes of Libby’s two appearances before the grand jury that investigated the CIA leak case.
The tapes did not contain much information not previously disclosed. Fitzgerald had picked Libby’s grand jury testimony clean for his indictment and pretrial submissions. But the airing of the tapes was a visceral moment in a trial that has sometimes bogged down in legal minutia. Jurors could hear Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff utter the words that Fitzgerald has branded lies. They could listen to the pauses, to the moments when Libby’s voice became quiet, to the hesitation that occurred during some of his answers–were any of these a tell?–and seek tangible and intangible indications of whether Libby indeed made false statements to prevent himself (and perhaps the vice president) from becoming entangled in a criminal prosecution.
In one of the first questions at the March 5, 2004 grand jury session, Fitzgerald asked Libby to explain how he had received his nickname “Scooter.” Libby replied with a small joke: “Are we classified in here? It’s–my family is from the South and it’s less uncommon than it is up here.” That was all he said–he didn’t answer the question. Then Fitzgerald bore down on Libby, grilling him on what he had known about the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and when he had known it.
There were several key exchanges in the first 100 minutes played before the court recessed for the day. (The tapes and the transcripts will be released to the media and the public–over the objection of Libby’s defense team–after all the tapes are played in court.) In front of the grand jury, Fitzgerald repeatedly asked Libby if in June 2003 he had discussed Wilson’s wife and her CIA employment with either Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman or CIA senior official Robert Grenier. (At that point, Wilson’s now infamous trip to Niger–during which he concluded the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Niger was bunk–had been cited in the media without Wilson being named.) Libby repeatedly told Fitzgerald that he had not spoken with either man about Wilson’s wife. Yet both Grossman and Grenier have testified in this trial that Libby demanded information from them about the Wilson mission and that they informed him the ambassador’s wife was a CIA employee.
Over and over, Libby told the grand jury he could not remember any such conversations with Grossman or Grenier. “Is that something you would remember?” Fitzgerald asked. “I just don’t recall the conversation,” Libby replied, in a voice that dropped in volume.