Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

The Mystery Note
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Feb. 28 2007 5:02 PM

Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

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Scooter Libby arrives at court. Click image to expand.
Scooter Libby arrives at the courthouse

There was a moment of near drama in the Scooter Libby trial Wednesday. At 9:45 a.m. the lawyers, court sketch artists, and journalists (including Chris Matthews, who has a side role in this drama) packed the courtroom waiting to hear about a note from the jury six days into deliberations. But after we took our seats, Judge Walton said he wasn't going to read the note because he wasn't sure he understood what the jury was asking. "I am going to send a note back to the jury saying, can you please clarify your answer," he said. Everyone slouched back and waited for the rewrite.

After a half-hour, Judge Walton returned with a new note. Now we'd get to see what they wanted to know. "After further discussion we now are clear on what we need to do," the note said. "No further clarification. We apologize."

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Never mind.

Once the first note was released to the press, it was easy to see why the judge was confused. The jurors were asking about the third count of the five-count indictment, the one concerning false statements Libby made to the FBI about his conversation with Matt Cooper. Libby said he only told Cooper he'd heard from other reporters that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA and that he didn't know if this was true. Cooper contradicted this, testifying that Libby confirmed Plame's status without qualification. The jury asked, "Is the charge that the statement was made or about the content of the statement itself?"

What exactly were they asking? Were they talking about Libby's statement to the FBI or his statement to Cooper? This was the first news to come out of the court since a juror was dismissed Monday, so in the press room there was a brief frenzy. We were like squirrels fighting over a nut. Was this a ceramic garden-ornament nut and therefore of no nutritional value? Yes, but darn if it didn't look like a real one. The jury seemed to want to know whether Libby was accused of lying to the FBI or lying to Cooper. The former is a lie for which he has been indicted; the latter, lying to a reporter, is, sadly, not a criminal offense. The jury apparently worked this out on its own between notes.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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