|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
It was the last thing the White House needed at a time when President Bush is already on the defensive over Iraq: a circular firing squad in a federal courtroom in which the president’s men—and Vice President Dick Cheney’s—are all shooting at each other.
But that’s how the perjury trial of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, began. Libby’s long-awaited defense was laid out for the first time Tuesday in opening statements and it turned out to be a stunner: a “scorched earth” strategy in which his main defense lawyer pointed accusatory fingers at White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove as well as other top current and former Bush aides.
Almost no legal experts had expected this plan of attack in the trial, the outcome of a drawn-out investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, to the media. According to chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the leak occured amid an effort by Bush administration officials to discredit Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly cast doubt on the administration’s case for war against Iraq. The FBI began an investigation after newspaper columnist Robert Novak exposed Plame’s identity in 2003. Libby is accused of obstructing the probe and lying to investigators. Neither of the two men later identified as the sources for Novak’s column, Rove or former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage, was charged in the case.
Libby, it was widely thought by legal experts, was going to be the good soldier. He would play it safe at his trial in order to preserve his options; mainly, if convicted, to seek a presidential pardon before Bush leaves office.
But no sooner did he start his opening statement Tuesday morning than defense lawyer Ted Wells shocked the courtroom and all but tossed the “pardon strategy” out the window. Seeking to rebut Fitzgerald’s contention that Libby had lied about his knowledge of Plame’s CIA employment in order to save his job with Cheney, Wells shot back: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat.”
According to Wells, the chief culprit, or at least the beneficiary of the plot was Rove, described by the defense lawyer as “the president’s right hand man,” whose survival was essential for the president’s re-election. As related by Wells, his client was so worried that Rove’s fate was taking priority over his that Libby went to his boss, Cheney, in October 2003 and complained: “I think people in the White House are trying to set me up. People in the White House are trying to protect Karl Rove.”
Well’s argument was both brilliant and complex-and perhaps difficult for non-news hounds on the jury to follow. But it raised the prospect that the Libby trial will now turn into a horror show for the White House, forcing current and former top aides to testify against each other and revealing an administration that has been in turmoil over the Iraq war for more than three years.