Magazine article The New Yorker

VERDICTS; Comment; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

VERDICTS; Comment; Comment

Article excerpt

It took a jury ten days of deliberations to find I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Jr., the former chief of staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney, guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators. On one level, it's hard to say why it took so long, because the evidence against Libby was both straightforward and overwhelming. The central issue in the case was how Libby learned that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of the diplomat turned Bush critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, worked for the C.I.A. Libby testified repeatedly that he had first been informed of her status in a telephone conversation with Tim Russert, the NBC newsman. But Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, called five witnesses, all of them former executive-branch colleagues of Libby's, who said that they had each separately discussed Valerie Wilson's employment with the defendant. In the capstone to the government's case, Russert testified that he did not tell Libby that Wilson worked at the C.I.A., because, at the time of their phone call, he did not know it. It's one thing to claim a faulty memory, as Libby did, through his lawyers, at the trial. It's quite another to concoct an imaginary conversation, as the jury ultimately decided that Libby had done. But, if the evidence was so strong, why did the jury find the case so difficult?

The investigation arose, of course, after the C.I.A. sent Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador to Gabon, on a mission to Niger, in 2002. He went to look into reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium yellowcake, which is used in the production of nuclear weapons, in that country. Wilson found no such attempt by any Iraqis, and said nothing publicly about his trip for more than a year. But after he heard President Bush touting the nonexistent African connection as a justification for the invasion of Iraq, including in a now notorious passage in his State of the Union address, Wilson started speaking out, first to journalists and then, on July 6, 2003, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times. In prose that could have come from a middling spy thriller--"Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River"--Wilson recounted his journey and raised the question of whether the war was based on, as he delicately put it, "the selective use of intelligence."

Wilson had no more attentive reader than the Vice-President, who carefully underlined his copy of the Op-Ed and jotted a series of indignant questions for his staff in the margin. "Have they done this sort of thing before?" Cheney asked in his meticulous handwriting. "Send an Amb. to answer a question?" Most of all, the notes showed that Cheney was in no mood for innocent explanations. His last question suggested darkly, "Or did his wife send him on a junket?"

The famous Cheney snarl was practically audible. Ambassador Wilson had questioned the basis for the Iraq war, so he had to be discredited--in this case, by showing that his trip to Africa had been dreamed up by his wife, who was, indeed, a C.I.A. employee. (In fact, Valerie Wilson did not send her husband to Niger, which is not generally a sought-after destination for Washington junketeers.) Cheney's intention was to defend the war by going on the offensive against critics like Wilson, and he wasn't the only one in the Administration doing it. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.