“Would any of you have any difficulty fairly judging the believability of former or present members of the Bush Administration?”
In a Washington courtroom on Tuesday morning, federal district court Judge Reggie Walton read that question to the pool of potential jurors, and that was a fair way of summing up the big question of the trial: did Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff lie to cover up his own participation in a White House campaign that was mounted to protect the Bush administration’s misleading case for war in Iraq?
Libby is on trial for having made false statements to FBI and a grand jury investigating the leaking of Valerie Wilson’s CIA identity. But his credibility (or lack thereof) is a reflection of the administration’s credibility (or lack thereof). Yet due to the normal workings of a federal court, Libby will be judged by Washington, DC, residents who are in a distinct minority: people who have not already concluded that Bush officials are not to be trusted.
Libby’s defense is that he forgot the truth when he appeared before FBI agents and the grand jury. At issue is what he said about his involvement in the CIA leak. The reality is this: in June and July 2003, when the White House was trying to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (who was accusing the administration of exaggerating the prewar intelligence), Libby, as part of this effort, disclosed information about Wilson’s wife (a.k.a Valerie Plame) to two reporters–Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time. After the Plame leak became a criminal matter, Libby (who was not a source for the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Wilson) told investigators that he had learned about Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection from reporters and had passed this information along to other reporters. In other words, he was just sharing gossip, not official information; he had no reason to know if this hearsay was true.
The problem (for Libby) is this: Fitzgerald has developed plenty of evidence showing that Libby actively sought and received information on Joseph Wilson and his wife before the whole Wilson imbroglio detonated and before Libby spoke to reporters. This information–which noted that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer–was classified. It came to him from the State Department, the CIA and Cheney.
So Libby’s faulty memory defense goes beyond a simple I-forgot-who-said-what. What he–or his lawyers–claim is that he completely forgot his own attempts to gather material on Wilson (and also forgot the information he obtained) and that when reporters several weeks later supposedly passed him rumors about Valerie Wilson, this did not jog his memory and cause him to recall what he had previously known. One major obstacle for Libby is that the reporters in question–including NBC’s Tim Russert, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Cooper and Miller–do not support his version of events.