This essay was produced in cooperation with TomDispatch.
Shortly after Vice President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, was indicted for obstructing justice and making false statements to a government agent and a grand jury, Libby’s attorneys suggested that they would use the standard he’s-a-busy-man-who-can’t-remember-everything defense. But now, with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s revelation that a senior Administration official other than Libby told him, in mid-June 2003, that Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger had been arranged by Wilson’s CIA operative wife, Valerie Wilson, it appears the Libby team has added another favorite, the SODDI defense–as in, “some other dude did it.”
Unfortunately for Libby, that turkey won’t fly. Here’s why. According to Libby’s attorney, Theodore Wells, Woodward’s disclosure is a “bombshell” that “undermines the prosecution” because it disproves special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s alleged contention that Libby was the first senior Administration official to reveal to a reporter that Valerie Wilson worked as a CIA analyst. Not true.
For starters, a prosecutor’s press conference statements are irrelevant to, and not admissible in, the trial of the case. And Fitzgerald never said Libby was the first official to have disclosed information about Valerie Wilson; he said Libby was the first official known to have disclosed such information. More important, though, it is of no help to Libby that another Administration official, “some other dude,” disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson’s employment in order to discredit her husband before Libby himself did so. (By the way, Woodward’s impression that the disclosure by his source was “casual” proves nothing about whether the smearing official knew that the information being leaked was classified.)
Despite the impression newspaper readers may carry away from the flap over Woodward, Libby is not charged with being the first to disclose Valerie Wilson’s employment; he’s not charged with disclosing anything at all. And in a criminal trial, it is the charges that define the issues.
What, exactly, are those charges? There are five counts. The first charges Libby with obstructing justice by deceiving the grand jury about when and how he “acquired and subsequently disclosed to the media information concerning the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA.” The second charges Libby with making false statements to the government about his conversation with NBC News reporter Tim Russert on July 10, 2003. The third charges him with making false statements to a government agent about a July 12 discussion with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. The fourth and fifth charge him with making false statements to a grand jury about those conversations.
So, the essential questions on which a jury would have to pass judgment at a trial would be: