The Gang That Couldn't Blame Straight

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen has been keeping an eye on the "Scooter" Libby trial, so you don't have to.
(AP Photo)
We have so far endured only one full day of testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, but already two distinct-- and distinctly political-- themes have emerged. Because you probably haven't decided to devote your time to monitoring the trial blow-by-blow, here's what you really (and only) need to know.

Through government witnesses, prosecutors so far have tried to give jurors the impression that when it came to "spinning" justifications for (and defenses of) the war in Iraq the White House, surprise surprise, was a nest of vipers in the late spring and summer of 2003. Everyone was pointing a finger at everyone else, government attorneys want jurors believing, which means that it was entirely plausible, if not inevitable, that White House officials ultimately would conspire to point a finger at former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an administration critic, and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson.

So jurors heard Wednesday from a fellow named Robert L. Grenier, former CIA Iraq Mission Manager, who told them that Libby summoned him one day in June 2003 because he was "concerned" that Libby's boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, was being blamed for sending Wilson to Niger to check upon the status of Iraq's nuclear weapons program. Libby apparently wanted the world to know that other agencies and folks within the executive branch also were behind the bright idea. Call it the "CYA by use of the CIA."

The defense, meanwhile, wants to give jurors the impression as the trial begins that no one involved in this case today remembers what the heck they said or did in 2003. Now, the idea that our leaders, the cream of our political and military and diplomatic crop, could be so addled and distracted and overwhelmed in the moment that they don't remember individual events and episodes a few years earlier is probably as scary to you as it is to me. But it's a core part of the Libby defense. If no one else remembers much detail from those heady days back in 2003, why should Libby go to prison for having a faulty memory?

Which brings us back to our friend Grenier, the former CIA honcho. On cross-examination, reports the Associated Press, defense attorneys got Grenier to "acknowledge he hadn't been able to recall for the FBI in December 2003 whether he told Libby about Plame's job at CIA, and that he still was uncertain when he testified to the grand jury in January 2004 and July 2005." But, he told jurors, he kept "going over it again and again in my mind…" until he came to a different conclusion. Not credible, say defense attorneys. Not exactly confidence-inducing, says me.

  • Andrew Cohen

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