02/13/2007 12:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Libby Trial: The Media as Pawns or Knights?

Arianna wrote a few days ago that there are two trials going on in the Prettyman courthouse in D.C. One is designed to determine whether Scooter Libby is guilty of making false statements to federal investigators, lying to the grand jury and obstructing justice. The other is a referendum on the symbiotic relationship between prominent journalists and high ranking Administration officials.

The currency in Washington has always been information. That's nothing new. But the Libby trial has laid bare, for anyone caring enough to take a look, how the Administration used the press to present its unfounded case for war.

The directive to combat Joseph Wilson's July 6 op-ed came from Cheney himself. To get a sense of how Libby and others snapped to attention when he cried "fetch," consider the July 12th flight to Norfolk. It was on this flight, carrying Cheney, Libby and Cheney press aide Cathie Martin to the commemoration of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, that Cheney gave his directive as if he were Tony Soprano: Go after this guy Wilson. So seriously did Libby and Martin take the command that they started roto-dialing reporters from Andrews Air Force Base the moment the plane returned from Norfolk.

Whether Cheney gave them the order to leak Valerie Plame Wilson's employment status to convey to the public that Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger was generated by nepotism is almost beside the point. The point is more that Cheney's first response, when he thought Wilson was suggesting publicly that he was the impetus behind Wilson's trip to Niger, was to use the press as his personal attack vehicle.

The Libby defense team today called reporter after reporter as witnesses to say that although they talked to Libby during the crucial week in July, Libby did not mention Joseph Wilson's wife to them. The goal of the defense is to convince the jury he had no motive to lie. Any inaccuracies in Libby's statements and testimony were the product of a faulty memory. After all, they argue, if he was trying to discredit Wilson by outing his wife's CIA employment to suggest nepotism, why wouldn't he have told the reporters who testified today about Wilson's wife? Why only Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper? Clearly, they will argue, Miller and Cooper are mistaken in their recollections.

Fitzgerald is wary of a defense "jury nullification" argument. He thinks the defense wants to argue that since Libby wasn't the leaker, and the real leakers, including Karl Rove, Richard Armitage and Ari Fleischer aren't being prosecuted, it would be unjust to convict Libby. But that's not what the defense is arguing. Everybody, including the jurors, knows that Libby isn't charged with being the leaker, only with being a liar.

The crux of the defense is that Libby was a busy man without a motive to lie to investigators and the grand jury. But it now appears Libby won't testify. He's going to try and get his pre-occupation with heavy national security matters in through Cheney"s current National Security Advisor John Hannah. Then, he may or may not follow up with Vice President Dick Cheney. (Check out Politics TV for Jane Hamsher, Marcy Wheeler and my divergent takes on whether Cheney will testify.)

The jury has been told over and over again that Valerie Plame Wilson's actual status with the CIA is neither relevant nor an issue in the case. They also know Libby didn't leak Plame Wilson's employment status, whatever it was, to Robert Novak. They are going to be consumed with the issue of whether Libby intentionally lied.

I think Fitzgerald has an uphill battle showing Libby's motive to lie. But if neither Cheney nor Libby testify for the defense after all this talk about the July 12 Norfolk plane ride, perhaps the jury will conclude Libby was merely taking a hit for Cheney, falling on his sword. Then what will they do? Acquit or convict?

The journalists testifying today showed themselves as feasters, particularly Robert Novak, who said he talked to Karl Rove two to three times a week. They are lechers for information, Washington's ultimate currency. The question I am left with is, did the journalists play the Administration officials or did the officials play them? And if they are playing each other, who's looking out for us, the press-reading public?

[Jeralyn Merritt blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime.]