Libby Verdict: a Driven Prosecutor, a Determined Jury
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald strode across the federal courthouse plaza early Tuesday afternoon as if straight from central casting: a serious government man in an off-the-rack dark blue suit, standing a head taller and walking 2 feet in front of the rest of his team, aiming purposefully for the array of microphones, cameras, and shivering reporters awaiting him.
He had just won convictions of Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby on four of five counts of lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his role in disclosing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
As the lawyers approached, a hapless journalist new to the story asked someone to point out the "head guy." The bellowed response from another media type: "The one who looks like the head guy is the head guy."
Fitzgerald has often been compared to the Chicago crime-fighting character Eliot Ness in The Untouchablesa boyish Robert Stack with a little less hair on top. And this afternoon, the comparison held up.
It was a huge win for the Chicago prosecutor, who has been criticized not only for subpoenaing reporters but also for an investigation that never could prove who in the Bush administration first leaked Wilson's identity and that resulted only in the perjury, false statement, and obstruction-of-justice charges against Libby.
But on the sunny plaza of the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse, with two American flags snapping in the bracing wind, Fitzgerald, as he had when he announced the indictments against Libby, defended his pursuit of the case as crucial to the pursuit of justice.
"It's not the verdict that justifies the investigation, it's the facts," he said, adding that it is "inconceivable" that a prosecutor would walk away from the facts, especially in a national security investigation.
"We cannot tolerate perjury," Fitzgerald said, in response to a barrage of questions, his hands folded in front of him. "When someone doesn't tell the truth, everyone suffers."
Still, the 46-year-old prosecutor called the outcome "sad."
"I wish it had not happened, but it did," he said.
And, indeed, it was sad earlier in Judge Reggie Walton's sixth-floor courtroom, where at precisely noon a wakelike hush washed over the packed rows of press and onlookers. No matter where one's sympathies lie, those long, strangely quiet minutes spent waiting for a jury to appear and render its verdict are agonizing.
Libby waited impassively, sitting with five members of his defense team. His wife, Harriet Grant, wrapped in a paisley scarf and wearing a dark coat, was in the front row next to Barbara Comstock, the GOP activist, and a male friend who kept his arm around Grant's shoulders.
By 12:07 it was all over. The jury foreman, a young woman with long, dark hair, had taken a microphone, read off four guilty verdicts and one not guilty, the jurors were polled at the request of Libby's lawyer, Ted Wells, and then, with a "farewell, ladies and gentlemen" from Walton, they left the room. Their job, after a four- week trial and 10 days of deliberation, was over.