NYT: Libby's 'scapegoat' defense may not be supported by any evidence

Published: Wednesday January 24, 2007
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In a front page story slated for Thursday's New York Times, reporters David Johnston and Jim Rutenberg suggest that a former White House aide's defense that he is being "scapegoated" for actions by top Bush Administration officials may not be supportable by any evidence and may not have "relevance" to the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice he faces.

"The assertion by lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr. that White House aides had sacrificed him to protect Karl Rove, the senior political adviser, appears to be based primarily on Mr. Libby’s own sense that the administration had failed to defend him adequately as the C.I.A. leak case unfolded," Johnston and Rutenberg write for the Times.

"But there is little known evidence to buttress the suggestion by Mr. Libby’s defense team in his obstruction and perjury trial that unnamed White House officials were deliberately setting Mr. Libby up to be a scapegoat," the article continues.

"Libby's lawyers said in an opening statement on Tuesday that he felt so abandoned by the White House as the leak investigation intensified in the fall of 2003 that he appealed to his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney," Johnston and Rutenberg write. "Mr. Cheney subsequently wrote: 'Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick his neck in the meatgrinder because of the incompetence of others.'"

According to the Times, the statement "set off a debate across Washington about whether they were part of a legal gambit to divert attention from the underlying charge that Mr. Libby lied to F.B.I. agents and the grand jury or whether his lawyers had evidence of an effort within the White House to focus the blame on Mr. Libby."

Late Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that "a high-ranking former CIA official testified today that he told I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby in June 2003 that the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA, after an 'aggrieved' Libby called seeking information about Wilson's CIA-sponsored trip to Africa."

"Robert L. Grenier, a former CIA associate deputy director, became the second prosecution witness at Libby's perjury trial to say he had disclosed information about CIA officer Valerie Plame to Libby weeks before Libby claims he learned her identity from a journalist," Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein wrote for the Post. "Defense attorney Theodore V. Wells Jr. argued that then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, the prosecution's first witness, was likely biased against Libby, had a 'fishy' meeting with a key figure in the investigation and had given conflicting accounts of events over time."

Excerpts from Times article:


Mr. Libby’s lawyers have so far offered few details about how he might have been set up as a fall guy for Mr. Rove. White House aides said little about the alleged rift on Wednesday, indicating they were prepared to grant their former colleague wide latitude to present an aggressive defense — even if it meant letting stand unanswered a story of intrigue and disloyalty involving President Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s most trusted aides.

The accusations of scapegoating came as a surprise. In the past, White House aides have portrayed Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove as colleagues who moved in different orbits, their paths crossing collegially but only occasionally, as they did during the effort that drew each of them into the leak case — the effort to defend a flawed statement in Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech in 2003 that Iraq had sought nuclear fuel in Africa.

But Mr. Libby may have had reason to feel singled out. He was the only White House official known to have been authorized to seek out reporters in the summer of 2003 in an effort to explain an intelligence report that the administration had used to make a case that Iraq was interested in acquiring uranium ore for its suspected nuclear program, according to legal documents in the case.