Prosecutor: Libby "Made Up A Story"

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (L) stands with adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby moments before President George W. Bush made a statement at the Rose Garden of the White House July 1, 2005 in Washington, DC. Bush commented on the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. GETTY

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald described for jurors Tuesday a detailed Bush administration effort to beat back early criticism of the Iraq war and accused former White House aide "Scooter" Libby of covering up his role leaking the identity of a CIA operative.

I. Lewis Libby's attorney countered with a White House effort of his own, one in which Libby was blamed for the leak to protect Bush political adviser Karl Rove's own disclosures.

"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb," attorney Theodore Wells said, recalling a conversation between Libby and his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, as the leak investigation heated up in 2003. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected."

CBS News correspondent Barry Bagnato reports that Wells called the government's case against Libby "weak" and "paper thin."

Bagnato reports that Wells also showed the jury a slide of a note Cheney wrote, in which the vice president said he was "not going to protect one guy and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder."

As the trial opened with a preview of each side's position, it was clear that the jury will be tasked with sorting through conflicting statements in a high-profile case that has opened a very public window on the behind-the-scenes Washington practice of leaking sensitive information to the news media.

CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said Libby's lawyers will try to convince jurors their client was so busy monitoring and spinning national security matters — which "dwarfed" in "amount and importance" the Plame matter — "that he can, and should, be forgiven for not remembering whether and to what extent he helped disclose Plame's identity or lied about it later, under oath."

The investigation began after syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed that a chief Bush administration critic, Joseph Wilson, was married to CIA operative Valerie Plame. Rove was one of two sources for Novak's story.

Nobody, including Rove, has been charged with the leak. Libby is accused of lying to investigators and obstructing the probe.

By putting the focus on Rove, whom Wells referred to as "the lifeblood of the Republican party," Wells sought to cast Libby as someone who was drawn into discussions about Plame only to clear his own reputation. White House officials publicly cleared Rove of wrongdoing but originally stopped short of doing so for Libby.

Using a computerized calendar during opening statement, Fitzgerald cast Libby's actions much differently. Fitzgerald described a tumultuous week in 2003 when he said the White House was under "direct attack" from Wilson.

Fitzgerald said Libby learned from five people — from Cheney to members of the CIA and State Department — that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Libby discussed that fact to reporters and others in the White House, Fitzgerald said.

"But when the FBI and grand jury asked about what the defendant did," Fitzgerald said, "he made up a story."

Libby told investigators he learned about Plame from NBC News reporter Tim Russert. But Fitzgerald told jurors that was clearly a lie because Libby had already been discussing the matter inside and outside of the White House.

"You can't learn something on Thursday that you're giving out on Monday," Fitzgerald said.

Libby says he didn't lie but was simply bogged down by national security issues and couldn't remember his conversations with New York Times report Judith Miller, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and Russert.

Libby's defense attorneys spent days trying to weed critics of the Bush administration out of the jury pool. The final panel contains four people who criticized or doubted the administration's war policies.

Opening statements were expected to continue into Tuesday afternoon. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.