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.
Libby's wife, her face flushed and distraught, wrapped her arms around Wells and patted his back, saying, "Love you. Love you." Her husband, still impassive and looking small and tired, left the courtroom, walked past a phalanx of U.S. marshals, and went to be fingerprinted and photographed.
Later, outside, Wells, flanked by Libby, his wife, and defense lawyer William Jeffress, pronounced his client "totally innocent. Totally innocent."
But Denis Collins, the only juror who ventured outside the court to speak with the media, said that while jurors had a "tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby," the preponderance of evidence proved to them he had lied about when he learned about and first told reporters about Valerie Plame Wilson.
Collins said that as a journalisthe has worked at the Washington Post and written for other publicationshe chose to speak with reporters.
"Because I was a reporter for a lot of years I thought it would be hypocritical of me not to talk," he said at the bank of microphones outside the court. A true gift to the assembled horde.
And in terms eloquent and revealing, Collins painted a picture of a serious, methodical, and intelligent jury that spent its first week of deliberations simply mapping out the testimony, evidence, and timelines for each charge. They filled 34 poster-size Post-it notes with information, he said, calling them the "building blocks." On nine of them they recorded testimony and evidence that underminedsometimes directly contradictedLibby's version of events. It was, the jurors decided, too many times for the faulty-memory defense to hold.
The jurors believe, he said, that Libby was the administration's "fall guy," and at times wondered "Where's Rove? Where are these other guys?" and expressed sentiments ranging from "I wish we weren't judging this" to "This sucks."
"We had Libby sitting there in front of us every day," said Collins, who wore a green jacket, khakis, and brown leather deck shoes. "He was a very sympathetic guy."
When they decided to convict on the four counts, jurors were not happy, he said. There were tears.
Libby's lawyers will ask for a new trial, and failing that, will appeal. Libby remains free on bail. And Fitzgerald? He said he doesn't expect to file any further charges in the investigation. He wouldn't comment on rumors that President Bush may consider pardoning Libby, and said he would not be happy if Libby is granted a new trial.
So, for now?
"We're all going back to our day jobs." And with that, he exited, stage left.