It took four years to investigate and then 10 days for jurors to finally decide the fate of former Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby. And when they did, they delivered a verdict that shook the White House--leading right to the vice president's office.
I've been following this trial pretty closely, and after this verdict--guilty on four out of five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements--I was left thinking that a) the jury did its job and b) it felt appropriately bad about it. After sitting through this trial, jurors got a pretty good inside view of what exactly goes on inside a White House under fire. This was the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and the administration's major rationale--the presence of weapons of mass destruction--was being publicly questioned by Ambassador Joe Wilson ... and you know the rest of the story.
What we learned in this story is that the vice president served as the chief damage-control officer, asking Libby to spread the word that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a way to discredit Wilson's fact-finding mission. "Did his wife send him on a junket?" Cheney wrote in the margins of Wilson's op-ed piece.
Libby dutifully talked to journalists--who testified at the trial--and then told the grand jury he forgot, thinking he learned about Wilson's wife's identity from them. The jurors didn't buy it, but what they did see made them ask a broader question because they felt bad for Libby, which is completely understandable. After all, leaking is not illegal in Washington; it's the way most of us journalists make our livings. The jury said he lied about it to the grand jury and the FBI, and that's what did him in.
Even so, one juror said, "There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby. It was said, a number of times, what are we doing with this guy here? Where's [presidential political adviser Karl] Rove? ... Where are these other guys?"
Could one of those other guys have been the vice president? Maybe. Only he didn't testify, probably because the defense (which had him on its witness list) thought it would be too risky. After all, the prosecutor could have ripped him apart on the witness stand--and that would have made Libby look even worse. For now, he faces somewhere between a year and three years in prison. Unless, of course, the president pardons him. I know one man who will be pushing for that: Dick Cheney.
By Gloria Borger