It's week two in the Scooter Libby trial. Marcy at Firedoglake has done a great job of live-blogging each day's testimony. Today was my first day at the trial thanks to Firedoglake and HuffPo. I spent most of it in the courtroom, seated behind Mrs. Libby, and some in the media room. There were a lot of veteran PlameGate reporters on hand: David Corn of The Nation, David Schuster of MSNBC, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, Byron York of the National Review and John Dickerson of Time, to name a few. Also following the action: Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News, David Stout of the New York Times, Nina Totenberg of NPR.
Being in the courtroom has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, you get the big picture, being able to watch the interaction between the prosecution and defense teams, Scooter Libby and his lawyers, the jury and the Judge. You also get to see what seems of interest to the jurors, what they smile and laugh at and what doesn't faze them.
On the minus side, it was stifling hot, many of us (including the Judge at one point) were using paper to fan ourselves and if you leave while court is in session, you can't get back in. Also, you are reduced to handwritten notes since no laptops are allowed in the courtroom. This is not a high-tech trial. The lawyers aren't tapping away at computers. The exhibits aren't fancy. There are a lot of assistants on both sides.
Now for the substance. Cathie Martin, Cheney's former press secretary, was the first witness of the day, where she underwent cross-examination by Libby lawyer Ted Wells. He took her through a chronological version of her testimony from last week.
If there was anything new, I didn't learn it. If he had a point, I didn't get it.
I think he was trying to show that none of the Administration's talking points involved Valerie Plame Wilson. She also said she didn't discuss Plame's CIA employment with Libby during July. Wells tried to get her to say that she didn't hear the entire phone conversation between Libby and Matthew Cooper. But, it fizzled because she insisted she was in the same room as Libby for the whole conversation, she just was talking on the phone during some of it and Libby was reading from the Administration's script the whole time.
So, according to Martin, there was nothing ad-libbed that she would have missed. I was really hoping Wells would end on a high note, leaving the jury to ponder a bone of contention that could amount to a reasonable doubt, but he ended with a housekeeping matter about document identification.
After Martin, which was dullsville, Ari Fleischer took the stand. Compared to Martin, he was a compelling witness.
He also was unshakable in his assertion that Scooter Libby told him at lunch on July 7th, the day he left for Africa, that Wilson's wife suggested him for the Africa trip and that she worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division. He said Libby told him this was "hush-hush" and on the QT.
Ari was a polished pro. Rather than directing his answers to Zeidenberg or Jeffress, he turned to the jury and spoke to them directly, gesturing with his hands. This is a trick FBI agents use. When it happens in my trials, I ask the judge to instruct the witness not to direct his answers to the jury, but to the lawyer asking the questions. Either Judge Walton would not have entertained such a motion, or Team Libby didn't think of it. After a while, it got obnoxious watching Fleischer suck up to the jury.
Jeffress was a good cross-examiner, he had his facts down and it was easier to follow where he was going than it was with Wells and Martin, but he failed to trip up Ari. The whole issue of Ari's immunity fell flat, there was no attempt to show Ari had committed a crime and Ari took full responsibility for having leaked to reporters, although he made a point of saying several times, he had no clue Plame's status may have been classified.
In fact, he testified, "never in my wildest dreams" did he imagine she was a covert agent in the intelligence section of the CIA.
Ari used communicator type words, to say he was "horrified" that he might have a role in exposing Plame. He explained Dan Bartlett's statement to him on Air Force One about Wilson's wife being behind the Niger mission and working for the CIA as an extemporaneous utterance by Bartlett, not particularly directed at him. Ari was more interested in the document he was reading at the time, and didn't pay much attention to Bartlett, since he had heard this before -- from Libby. Ouch.
Jeffress was trying to show that Ari told David Gregory of NBC News and John Dickerson of Time about Plame's job and supposed role in sending Wilson to Africa -- the inference being, that maybe Russert really heard about Plame from Gregory while Dickenson may have been the person who told Matthew Cooper. But, it was a balloon that didn't take off. I expect they will return to this theory during Russert and Coopers' testimony.
At the end of the day, Cheney former counsel, David Addington, now his Chief of Staff, took the stand. He was friendly, not hostile yet seemed to bury Libby. He said that between July 6 and July 14, Libby asked him if the President could order material declassified and whether there would be a paper trail if a CIA employee's spouse went on a trip. He also said that at one point in the conversation, Libby used his hands to gesture him to speak lower.
Judith Miller testifies tomorrow. Fitz says he won't introduce Scooter's Aspen letter in his case in chief. At this point, Team Libby's defense isn't focused enough for me to predict where they will go with her. So tune in to Marcy's live-blogging and back here tomorrow night, and we'll all find out together.
(Jeralyn Merritt blogs daily at TalkLeft.com)
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