This is the first of my reports on becoming the ultimate Washington insider. That's my goal in life since moving here last fall, despite the fact that I'm pushing 40 and I don't do anything related to politics and I barely know anyone here.
I've been an armchair "Plameologist" since spring 2005, about mid-way through the affair. Yesterday I had a chance for my first taste of inside-the-Beltway drama. I took the morning off work to attend the last scene of the Scooter Libby case.
I arrived at the Prettyman Building at 7:53, and was the second person to be let through security. I had donned a suit, and wore my passkey from work around my neck (part of my "I belong here!" disguise). I found Courtroom 16 on the sixth floor. I was the first one there, so I asked a guard to guarantee I was in the right place. He did, so I planted myself by the courtroom door.
A young blond woman showed up next, a political theory professor who was, like me, just attending out of a citizen-Plameologist's interest. She was carrying a hardcover edition by Plato. We discussed the recent demise of Jack Abramoff's Signatures restaurant, and she pointed out to me that it had been the only "good" restaurant in town that was actually kosher.
Gradually a small line formed behind us, then a new line started forming across the hallway: The Press. It wasn't long before Nina Totenberg sauntered up in a shocking Pepto-Bismol-colored ensemble, and humbly took her place in line with other less noticeable journos.
They opened the courtroom door and The Professor and I found seats in the fifth row. Dana Milbank came in, then Michael Isikoff. He and Milbank chatted and laughed conspiratorially. At 9:15 Patrick Fitzgerald arrived in a light-gray, wrinkled suit with blue tie. He has a very large head. By 9:25 there were still plenty of seats (the sentencing was to begin at 9:30), and The Professor and I wondered aloud why we had come so early. "We didn't know what to expect. We did the right thing," I said.
Then Team Libby and his family and well-wishers arrived. His wife cried as she embraced another woman. The Professor, like me, is no fan of the Bush administration, but we felt empathy nonetheless: "It's tragic," she whispered. Suddenly I noticed Scooter, putting on a brave, smiling face. He scanned the room slowly from his seat (maybe looking for Dick Cheney in the crowd?), and our eyes met for a moment, during which I sent him a "be strong" vibe, because no matter who you are, it can't be easy, in fact it must be sickening, to sit and wait to find out if you're going to jail or not. I had thought about that, about him, as I ate my breakfast this morning.
Judge Reggie Walton entered. A long back-and-forth-and-side-to-side ensued regarding "cross-referencing," which I eventually figured out meant tying the punishment for obstruction to the severity of the underlying crime. I wrote a note to The Professor: "I don't think this is 'just going to take five minutes' anymore."
Judge Walton was unconcerned with the microphone on his bench, and Nina, Dana, and the rest of us often had to lean in and cup our ears to make out what he was saying. I notice something Scooter and Fitzgerald have in common: Large bald spots on the tops of their heads. Meanwhile, the U.S. marshal resembled G.G. Allin without all the tats. Curiously, the media didn't seem to be taking many notes. In fact, one of the heavy hitters I've mentioned above didn't take any at all. I won't say who, since I do want to become the ultimate Washington insider.
Then Fitzgerald broke out the line about not rewarding someone for successfully obstructing justice. Scooter's very interesting-looking wife coughed, then leaned down and got a cough drop or something out of her purse. At the first 10-minute recess, she greeted people in the hall, and went and had a last chat with the security guards and court personnel, whom Scooter later thanked in his brief statement. She had on a black suit with a long, light-blue sash around her shoulders. Like a dark cloud with a bright lining. Her hair is amazing, and she knows it, and she makes a habit of pushing it back with her hand, sensuously. (You don't get these details from the AP, folks!) She really is fierce.
Scooter's whole team seemed to me to be phoning it in. Finally Jeffries said he thought he was just wasting the court's time, which was obvious to me from the get-go based on Judge Walton's demeanor of "I'm not buying what you're selling. I am, however, buying almost everything Fitzgerald is selling." The Professor and I wrote notes to each other: It doesn't look good for Scooter.
It was getting hot in here, so Nina had taken off her pink jumper to reveal a pink-and-white checkered shoulderless dress. The Code Pink ladies demonstrating outside surely approved. (I love your work, Nina! Call me!)
Fitzgerald talked about how Scooter's actions put the prosecutors in a "house of mirrors" and cost everyone much time and many resources. More debate ensued. Now it was 10:30, and people were starting to shift in their seats. When we got up for the recess, I noticed that the media leave little slips of paper with their affiliation to mark their spaces: "CBS," etc.
Now Fitzgerald gave his closing speech: "Truth matters. One's station in life does not." He has a kind of blustery, stumbling way of talking. He is not what I expected. Then Ted Wells read from those letters of support for what seemed like an eternity. "This is backfiring," I wrote to The Professor. His best line was about how, unlike Scooter, a lot of lawyers don't do "squat" for their country. Many smiles were exchanged when Wells quoted Paul Wolfowitz on Scooter. Uh, didn't he resign in disgrace recently?
All of the descriptions offered by his lawyers were intended to make Scooter sound like a saint, a great patriot, a paragon of altruism; but to me they just portrayed a hard worker, and one who, for all we know, has done a lot of questionable things. They spoke of his "public humiliation" being punishment enough. I disagreed.
Then Scooter said a few words. As many have already pointed out: No contrition. He sounded humble, though. He went to sit back down, but as soon as he did, the judge mumbled, "Uh, I'm ready to give the sentence." So Scooter returned to stand before the bench, flanked by his two lead attorneys. The suspense is now palpable. The judge gives a long speech, the first half of which sounds rather sympathetic toward Scooter, and gets me thinking he's going the slap-on-the-wrist route. Wells jerks his head several times affirmatively at things the judge says. But then Walton changes his tone abruptly to stern admonishment. Finally, as we lean in to hear him, hands cupped to our ears (someone even passed the judge a note to speak up, which he briefly did), he delivers the sentence. There is hardly any reaction in the room, neither with Scooter or his wife, nor the spectators. My jaw dropped, though, at the length of the sentence.
Then another short recess. The Professor says, "I'm staying till the bitter end." I notice that everyone at the defense and prosecution tables has Deer Park bottled water, except someone at Fitzgerald's table has ETHOS water from Starbucks. Draw your own conclusions. Then the haggling over bail, self-surrender, etc., begins. You can read in the paper how that all went.
Out front, the Professor and I linger around the waiting media hordes. Someone runs out and yells, "Fitzgerald's coming out that side and Libby's coming out that side!" A frantic regrouping begins, and the Professor and I have to decide "which side" to go to. She chooses to gawk once more at Fitzgerald, and I tag along. She's leaving, and we exchange business cards, Washington insider-style. About 10 cameramen encircle Fitzgerald as he strides purposefully toward Constitution Avenue, where he hails a cab and gets in, leaving the stalkerazzi standing there, and bewildering the cab driver. Not your everyday fare. His work here is done, who knows where he's headed.
As for me, I head over to the Capital Grille for lunch -- where else? Maybe with one ultimate Washington insider going away for a while, there's an opening for me.
Follow Scott Shrake on Twitter: www.twitter.com/storyleague