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Libby's Attorneys Pick at Russert's Account of Leak


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The government rested its case today on the perjury trial of Lewis Libby, the former top aide of Vice President Dick Cheney. Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has presented a series of witnesses aimed at proving that Libby lied to the FBI and a grand jury when he denied leaking the name of an undercover CIA agent.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is at the federal courthouse here in Washington, D.C. She joins us now. Nina, what kind of case has the government been able to make against Libby?

NINA TOTENBERG: Well this has been really a very straightforward case. I think before this case started, the sort of conventional wisdom was that it was a very difficult case for the prosecution to make because it's charging perjury and obstruction, but not what's called a substantive count. That is, the defendant is accused of lying and obstructing justice, but he's not charged with an underlying crime that he was trying to cover up.

So that's a hard thing to show for any prosecutor. But Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has put on what appears on the surface to be a simple case, but of course, any case that looks that simple has been hard to be put together. And there had been 10 witnesses in 10 days, and I've got to tell you that most of those days have been consumed by cross-examination. And we've heard from CIA witnesses, State Department witness, several White House witnesses, three reporters, and almost all of those witnesses, by and large, have contradicted the account that Mr. Libby gave to the grand jury and to the FBI.

NORRIS: And as to Mr. Libby, when does the defense start it case and what do you expect?

TOTENBERG: Well, we don't know yet. It's supposed to start its case on Monday. The prosecution rested today. Mr. Libby, we still don't know if he's going to take the witness stand. I would guess that there are going to be several prongs of the defense case.

First, there's going to be the prong, which is this guy was so busy. He was the vice president's national security adviser and chief of staff. He had to consume every day hundreds of pages of classified materials. He was going to dozens of meetings. He was the vice president's point man on tons of things. And he can't be expected to remember everything. And he forgot a lot. And that he was giving you the on his honest to God recollection when he testified before the grand jury and the FBI, and the fact that he forgot a bunch of things he may have been told by other people doesn't mean that he wasn't telling the truth.

The second prong is going probably be an effort at confusion. We're going to have a lot of press witnesses. It may be that we hear from the vice president himself talking about everything from national security to how busy Mr. Libby was. If the prosecution's case was this is simple, the defense's case has got to be this is so complicated. You can't put a guy in jail for something that is this nuanced and complicated.

NORRIS: Listening to the testimony and in particular the cross examination, Nina, does it seem like the press is also on trial here along with Lewis Libby?

TOTENBERG: Well, we've already had three reporters and we're probably going to have at least a half dozen more. Let's just put it this way. The press doesn't look all that great. It turns out that our notes are sloppy. Our memories are pretty poor. Tim Russert was cross-examined today and he said he couldn't remember a particular appearance of his the morning before Libby's indictment was announced. He said look, I'm on the air all the time. I just don't remember one appearance from another. And the defense lawyer, the lead defense lawyer, was frankly dubious.

NORRIS: Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: That was NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. And you can read and hear extended excerpts of Lewis Libby's testimony to the grand jury at our Web site, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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