Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

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Jan. 24 2007 7:45 PM

Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

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You want a leak case? Here's a leak case: socialite-actress-producer Zeta Graff suing socialite-actress Paris Hilton for libel and slander for Hilton's alleged leak to Page Six of the New York Post. Hilton allegedly falsely reported that Graff had gone "berserk" at a London nightclub when she saw Hilton dancing to "Copacabana" with Graff's ex-boyfriend Paris Latsis. Hilton allegedly also reported that Graff tried to rip a $4 million diamond necklace off Hilton's neck, and that Graff, according to Hilton, is allegedly "a woman who is older and losing her looks, and she's alone. She's very unhappy." Graff is in her mid-30s.

But instead we have Scooter Libby and no tiny dancers. Yesterday's opening arguments supplied high drama—Libby's claim that he was hung out to dry so that Karl Rove could continue to work the levers of Bush's brain—but today the trial gets down to the more mundane business of whether Scooter lied to investigators and the grand jury.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

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In case you believed that trials are interesting, this morning's cross-examination of Marc Grossman—the first prosecution witness, a former undersecretary of state who testified yesterday afternoon that he told Libby that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA—would quickly disabuse you of that enthusiasm. Libby's attorney Ted Wells makes about 200 rapid-fire attempts to impeach Grossman's credibility, some of which are silly, and some of which result in bits of bloody tissue on Grossman's chin.

I have never been a fan of defense efforts to make witnesses look stupid for failing to take notes or otherwise memorialize every conversation they had with anyone at any time, in anticipation of future litigation. So, Wells' relentless "you have no notes/ you wrote no follow up/ you have not one piece of paper," says less about Grossman's credibility than it does about his rather healthy tendency to avoid thinking like a lawyer.

But Wells scores points for either tenacity or truth when, after about 30 laps around the same mulberry bush, he gets Grossman to concede that what he told the FBI, the grand jury, and the Libby jurors about his conversations with Libby had "changed" over time. Wells also highlights Grossman's inconsistency about whether these meetings with Libby happened over the phone or face-to-face. He plants the seed with the jurors that Grossman's decision to meet with his boss, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the night immediately before Grossman was interviewed by the FBI in October 2003, was "fishy" and tantamount to "cooking the books"—although Wells withdraws his original legal characterization of that meeting as "monkey business."

This morning's direct examination of the government's second witness, former Deputy CIA Director and "Iraq Mission Manager" Robert Grenier, goes pretty much along the same lines as yesterday's direct of Grossman. Grenier delivers a polished performance—the former CIA deputy who looks like an anchorman.

Grenier reveals how he came to tell Libby that Plame was Wilson's wife. According to Grenier, an "aggrieved" and "slightly accusatory" Scooter called him on June 11, 2003, wanting to know whether the CIA was responsible for sending Joe Wilson on his mission to Niger, and whether it was true that interest from the office of the vice president was the basis for the mission. According to Grenier, Libby was—paraphrasing now—freaking out about what Wilson was telling the press—so much so that Libby couldn't wait for Grenier to call him back, but instead pulled him out of a late-afternoon meeting with then-CIA Director George Tenet, to find out whether he had learned anything since they spoke a few hours earlier. This was also when Grenier passed along the tidbit about Wilson being married to a CIA agent—a bit of gossip about which Grenier later felt "guilty."

Grenier testifies on direct, and then later on cross, that he didn't mention the whole Plame thing in his FBI interview or his grand-jury testimony, but that months later he developed the "growing conviction" that he had indeed told Libby about it. As the defense characterizes it this afternoon, "his memory grew." When confronted on cross with FBI reports that contradict his earlier testimony, he prefaces his remarks with: "As a former CIA officer I have the greatest respect for the FBI. But the FBI officer who reported this may not have gotten it exactly right." The pressroom busts out laughing.

Grenier, like Grossman, wriggles uneasily under defense questioning about his on-again/off-again memory. When asked whether his grand jury testimony was "wrong" he says, "It was what I believed at the time." Then Grenier begins to pat at his pockets, in search of the eyeglasses he'd been wearing all afternoon. This goes on for so long that the judge calls for a break in which we watch the court being ransacked for the glasses. Doubtless, once his glasses are found, Grenier will remember where they were.

The last witness of the day is Craig Schmall, Libby's morning intelligence briefer from the CIA. On direct examination, he describes how briefing books are organized and tabbed and then details the events of June 14, 2003, which included a visit to Libby's office by Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz. He was "very excited about it." When asked why the Cruise-Cruzes were visiting, Schmall relates that they were "there to discuss with Libby how Germany treats Scientologists." No wonder Scooter can't recall anything else that happened that day!

Schmall testifies about the Plame leak, including his concerns about the "grave danger" that might follow the disclosure of the name of a CIA officer that could lead to "innocent people in foreign countries" who could be "arrested, tortured, or killed" as the result of outing an agent. This elicits a stern caution from the judge that jurors not consider the matter of Plame's status as a CIA agent, or the dangers of leaking her identity: These issues are not before them.

On cross, Schmall is questioned about whether he recalls that on June 14, the same day he and Libby discussed the Wilsons, he also briefed Libby about a bomb defused near a residential compound, a police arrest, a terrorist bombing in an unidentified country, explosions, extremist networks, a possible al-Qaida attack, Iraq's porous borders, violent demonstrations in Iran, and 11 other pages of terrorist threats. Schmall cannot recall. Then Schmall has a ride in the defense team's "I forgot what I told the FBI and remembered it later" machine. But he's still a good prosecution witness. He smiles when he says, "I forgot."

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