Published March 07, 2007
WASHINGTON – Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was found guilty Tuesday of four of five counts of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstructing an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity.
Libby was found not guilty on count three, which was the subject of late questioning Monday by the 11 jurors. The jury reached a verdict on the 10th day of deliberations and just hours after they had received an answer to a three-part question about count three, which alleges that Libby lied to the FBI about a conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said his team was "gratified" by the verdict.
"Obviously, we are gratified by the jury's verdict today. The jury worked very long and hard and deliberated at some length over the charges and returned a verdict on four of the counts. The jury was obviously convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had lied and obstructed justice on a serious matter," Fitzgerald said.
"The results are actually sad — sad that we have a situation where a high-level official, a person who worked in the office of vice president, obstructed justice and lied under oath and I wish that had not happened, but it did," the prosecutor added. "When someone doesn't tell the truth to the system, everyone suffers."
Defense attorney Ted Wells said he was very "disappointed" in the verdict and would try to get the verdict overturned.
"Despite our disappointment in the jurors' verdict, we believe in the American justice system and we believe in the jury system. We intend to file a motion for a new trial and, if that is denied, we will appeal the conviction, and we have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated," he said.
"We believe, as we said at the time of the indictment, that he is totally innocent, totally innocent and that he did not do anything wrong," Wells continued.
Watching from the Oval Office, President Bush said the news was unfortunate, but he would not be commenting further, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
“He said that he respected the jury's verdict, that he was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family, and that the White House direction from here on out" would be not to comment, said Perino. "And I know that there's going to be a lot of disappointment with this, but there is an ongoing criminal proceeding.”
Vice President Dick Cheney also expressed his disappointment.
"As I have said before, Scooter, has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction through many years of public service," he said in a statement, adding that would be his only comment while his legal team pursues an appeal.
The guilty verdicts on four charges mean Libby faces a combined penalty of up to 25 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a shorter sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for June 5.
Prior to the verdict, Libby, 56, was said to be "very nervous," but walking out of the courtroom after the verdict was read, his face was expressionless. Libby's wife's eyes were red and puffy after sobbing in the courtroom. Her face was also flushed.
The jury was released shortly after noon. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton expressed his gratitude to the panel for its service.
"I would like to publicly thank you for all the time you have given to the case. We know it is an inconvenience. I can't say I have seen a better group of jurors ... (your work) epitomizes what our judicial system is supposed to be about," Walton said.
The 11-member jury was made up of seven females and four males. One female juror was dropped from the jury during the third day of deliberations after she claimed to have a conflict of interest. The 12th juror was not replaced by an alternate.
Perjury, Lying and Obstruction Charges
Libby was accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents and the grand jury about how he learned about Valerie Plame's identity and whom he told. Plame is the CIA employee whose husband, Amb. Joe Wilson, was sent to Niger by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium.
Wilson became a vocal critic of the Bush administration for using bad intelligence to justify the attack on Iraq. Libby and others, including President Bush aide Karl Rove, were implicated for trying to out Plame in retaliation for Wilson's criticism. Libby was the only person charged.
The "prosecution of a senior White House official illustrates that we are a nation of laws and that no man is above the law. ... The entire Wilson team is pleased by today's verdict and believes that justice has been served in this case," reads a statement from the Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson.
The two added that they will continue with a civil suit against members of the administration. They note that the civil suit is different from the criminal one because it "hinges on whether or not the defendants violated the constitutional rights of Valerie and Joe Wilson by making those disclosures in a concerted effort to retaliate against Joe Wilson for revealing the falsity of the president's rationale for the Iraq war."
Jurors heard 19 witnesses during the five-week trial, but Libby was not called to the stand. Among the witnesses testifying were journalists Cooper, Tim Russert of NBC and Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller spent 85 days in jail so as not to reveal her source. She testified for the prosecution.
Juror Denis Collins, a former journalist, said after the trial that "the jurors were not happy after this was done. There was no congratulating. There was no 'way to go'" for coming back with the guilty verdicts.
On the four counts with a guilty verdict, Libby was convicted of:
• Obstruction of justice for lying to the grand jury about being told by Russert that Plame worked at the CIA and all the reporters working the story knew it; lying about being surprised by Russert's "news" and telling the grand jury that he told Cooper what he had "heard" from Russert;
• False statements to the FBI about his alleged conversation with Russert. Libby told the FBI he was surprised by this statement because he had forgotten that the vice president already told him of Plame's status;
• Perjury to the grand jury about his conversation with Russert, and telling the grand jury he was "taken aback" to learn from Russert that Plame worked at the CIA; and
• Perjury to the grand jury about his conversation with Cooper, in which he supposedly told Cooper he had heard from other reporters that Plame worked for the CIA.
"The thing that convinced on most of the accounts was the alleged conversation with Russert. It was either false, which some of us believe it never happened, or if it did happen, Mr. Libby saying that he was surprised to hear about Mrs. Wilson," Collins said.
Collins said that the jury had about 34 posted pages of "building blocks ... and what we came up with was that Mr. Libby either was told by or told to about Mrs. Wilson at least nine times, and in a period of time where it was extremely" hard for him to have let it drop off the radar.
"We were told he had a bad memory, and we actually believed he did," but testimony about Libby's grasp of details was such that "even if he had forgot that someone had told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely that he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson," Collins said, adding that the memory problem was the least convincing argument presented in the trial.
On count three, Libby was found not guilty of making false statements to the FBI that he told Cooper that reporters were saying Plame worked for the CIA, but that he didn't know if that was true.
Cooper says Libby confirmed that Plame worked at the CIA. Libby told FBI agents that he only mentioned Plame to Cooper but he didn't know for sure whether she worked at the agency.
After completing their ninth day of deliberations without a verdict Monday, jurors passed Walton three questions relating to count three suggesting that they were confused about what Fitzgerald was alleging.
The questions asked: Were prosecutors saying Libby knew that Plame worked for the CIA by the time of his FBI interview, jurors asked, or does the government believe Libby's account of the Cooper conversation was untrue?
"To be clear, Mr. Libby is charged in count three with making a false statement to the FBI about what was said during his July 12, 2003, conversation with Mr. Cooper. Mr. Libby is not charged with making a false statement to Mr. Cooper. ... To be clear, count three does not allege, nor does the prosecution contend, that Mr. Libby told the FBI that, at the time of his FBI interviews, he did not know that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA," Walton responded to one of the jury questions.
End of the Road For the CIA Leak Probe
Long after the investigation began, it was revealed that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, an administration member who opposed the war, was the first to leak Plame's name to the media. Armitage was never charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which punishes those who out secret agents.
In fact, the court never determined nor did it allow any evidence in Libby's trial about whether Plame was undercover or not and whether Libby violated the IIPA. Questions about Libby's motive were tested by the assertion that he had no reason to lie if Plame was represented to him as an analyst, he never knew she was undercover nor had reason to lie about his knowledge of her role in sending Wilson to Niger.
Fitzgerald said he had no plans to file any other charges against any other administration official.
"I do not expect to file any further charges. Basically, the investigation was inactive prior to the trial," he said. "I would not expect to see any further charges filed, we are all going back to our day jobs. If new information comes to light, if new information comes to us that would warrant us taking some action, we look forward to doing that. But I would not create the expectation that any of us will be doing further investigation at this point, we see the investigation as inactive."
Nonetheless, Democrats who have long been critics of the administration applauded the jury's decision.
"It's about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Lewis Libby has been convicted of perjury, but his trial revealed deeper truths about Vice President Cheney's role in this sordid affair. Now President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct."
"Today the American legal system did something the Bush administration hasn't, by holding Scooter Libby accountable for his illegal actions. Many unanswered questions remain about the other key Bush advisors who participated in the administration's efforts to mislead the American people and smear its critics who have yet to be held accountable," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
Plame and her husband have since left government and are in the process of developing a movie about the case with Warner Bros. and producer Jerry Zucker. Plame also has a $2 million book deal if the CIA ever permits her to publish her story.
FOX News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.