Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Libby was "set up" to protect Rove: lawyer

Libby was "set up" to protect Rove: lawyer
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former vice presidential aide charged with perjury was "set up" by the White House to protect political strategist Karl Rove during a CIA leak investigation, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby was so worried he would be blamed for blowing the cover of a CIA operative that he asked his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, to intervene on his behalf, defense lawyer Theodore Wells told the jury at the beginning of Libby's perjury trial.

"He was concerned about being set up," Wells said. "He was concerned about being the scapegoat for this entire Valerie Wilson controversy."

Libby resigned as Cheney's chief of staff when he was charged with lying to investigators who sought to determine who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. The leak occurred after Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to build its case for invading Iraq.

Special Prosector Patrick Fitzgerald said Libby told investigators he only passed along rumors about the operative, who was known by her maiden name Valerie Plame, to reporters.

But Libby had actually sought out information from other government officials and then shared that information with reporters as fact, Fitzgerald said.

"The defendant lied to the FBI and stole the truth from the grand jury," Fitzgerald said.

Wells said Libby couldn't possibly remember the details of conversations he had about Plame months after they happened because he was preoccupied with national security matters.


But Wells made clear he also intends to point a finger at the White House officials outside of Cheney's office, though Wells did not say who they were.

In his opening statement, Wells displayed a note written by Cheney that said he was "not going to protect one staffer (and) sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."

Libby "was an important staffer, but Karl Rove was the lifeblood of the Republican Party," Wells said.

Cheney is among the prominent government officials and journalists expected to testify in the six-week case, which will examine the White House and the Washington press corps as the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003.

One of those officials, former No. 3 State Department official Marc Grossman, testified that Libby asked him to look into a trip taken by Joseph Wilson to explore whether Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.

Grossman said he was surprised to find out that Plame had organized the trip.

"It didn't seem right or appropriate that a spouse would be organizing their spouse's trip," Grossman said. He said he informed Libby about Plame and the trip a few days later, though he considered the whole affair to be "of less than zero importance."

Rove also discussed Plame's identity with reporters before it was publicly known. He faced prolonged scrutiny in the case before he was cleared by Fitzgerald last June.

No one has been charged with blowing Plame's cover.