WASHINGTON – The first question from jurors at the perjury trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby prompted a lot of head-scratching Wednesday but shed little light on their progress.
The jury, now down to seven women and four men, stumbled briefly over legal language in one of the five counts against the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney but resolved the issue quickly and continued deliberating.
They went home Wednesday evening without a verdict.
The jurors had sent a note to the judge seeking clarification late Tuesday at the end of their fifth day of deliberations.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton and nearly a score of defense lawyers and prosecutors spent part of Tuesday evening in their offices and a portion of Wednesday morning in court puzzling over what the jurors were asking and how to respond.
Walton remained uncertain, so he sent the jurors a note late Wednesday morning asking them to clarify their question.
By that time, the jurors had resolved their difficulty on their own and moved on.
"After further discussion, we are clear on what we need to do," the jury wrote back. "No further clarification needed. Thank you. We apologize."
This episode set off a welter of speculation among lawyers and reporters over what it might reveal about the jurors' deliberations since they got the case at midday last Wednesday.
Only one thing could be said for certain: They had not told the court they were deadlocked.
Libby is accused of obstruction of justice and of lying to the FBI and a grand jury in 2003 about how he learned the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame and what he said to reporters about the woman, who is married to prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson.
The jurors asked about the third of five counts, leading some observers to speculate they might be halfway through their work.
Others, however, suggested the jurors might have reviewed testimony and exhibits before considering specific charges, and then begun with the third count because it is the least complex.
Jurors asked about the charge that Libby lied to the FBI about his conversation with Time magazine's Matthew Cooper. Cooper testified that Libby confirmed for him that Plame worked for the CIA. Libby told the FBI he had only told Cooper he'd heard that from reporters but didn't know if it was true.
Most observers thought the jurors wanted to know if they were to decide whether Libby's or Cooper's account of the conversation was correct or whether what Libby claimed to have told Cooper was true.
Some, noting that the defense questioned the accuracy of FBI note-taking, thought the jurors wanted to know if they were to decide whether Libby even gave the FBI that account of the conversation.
All the while, the jurors never emerged from their deliberation room.