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Short day of deliberations Friday for Libby jury

Jurors in the perjury trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby have much work to do and expect to deliberate into next week. [!]
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jurors in the perjury trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby returned to work Friday with no verdict immediately in sight.

The seven women and four men have been deliberating for more than a week but have indicated they still have plenty of work to do. They recently asked for more office supplies and asked the judge to let them go home early Friday for the weekend.

"So I assume they will not have a verdict tomorrow either," U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton told lawyers Thursday as jurors finished their seventh day of deliberations.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Walton said he would let jurors break for the weekend at 2 p.m.

Jurors have offered few clues about their progress. They've asked only one substantive question - involving Libby's discussions with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper - but apparently resolved it themselves before the judge could answer.

Libby faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of all five charges. He would likely get far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.

Few clues to the jury's mindset
Earlier in the day, it appeared the seven women and four men were handcrafting their own visual aids to help sort out the complicated case.

Jurors asked for a large flip chart, masking tape, Post-it notes and pictures of the witnesses almost immediately after beginning deliberations last week. Late Wednesday afternoon, they emerged to ask the judge for large, easel-sized pages that can be stuck on walls.

The note, which was released Thursday morning, was brief and offered no clues about the jury's deliberations.

"We would like another big Post-it pad," the jury foreman wrote. "The large one for the easel."

Walton said he denied the dictionary request - not an uncommon one for juries - because definitions of common words can have legal implications. He told jurors if they had questions, they could ask him directly.

The deliberations began after 14 days of testimony and exhibits. The trial focused heavily on one week in June 2003 and lawyers on each side used computerized timelines to highlight important events. Jurors may be trying to reconstruct their own timeline from witness testimony that sometimes was conflicting.

15-minute notice
Libby and his lawyers have remained in or around the downtown courthouse throughout the deliberations. Walton has told everyone to be on a 15-minute notice to be back in the courtroom in case of a verdict.

In addition to obstruction of the leak investigation, Libby is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about how he learned and whom he told about Plame.

Prosecutors say he concocted a story to avoid losing his job for disclosing classified information to reporters without authorization. Libby said he gave investigators his best recollection of what happened and any errors resulted from memory flaws.

The jurors include a former Washington Post reporter, an MIT-trained economist, a retired math teacher, a law firm accountant, a Web architect and several retired or current federal workers. There were 10 whites and two blacks — unexpected in a city where blacks outnumber whites more than 2-to-1.

The trial provided behind-the-scenes details of the interaction between top reporters and government officials and of Cheney's efforts to rebut criticism of him and the administration.

The case against Libby
The investigation began with the public identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame on July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband, ex-Ambassador Wilson, publicly accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence to push the nation into war with Iraq.

Months later, Libby told the FBI and a grand jury that he first learned that Plame worked for the CIA from Cheney on June 11. But he said that amid the press of war issues and other national security concerns he forgot that and was surprised to learn it from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert on July 10 or 11. Thereafter he said he told reporters he had heard the information only from journalists and could not confirm it.

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Russert testified he and Libby never discussed Plame. Judith Miller, who had been a reporter with The New York Times, testified Libby told her about Plame's CIA job before the Russert conversation. Matt Cooper, then of Time magazine, testified Libby confirmed her employment for him. Six government officials testified they either told Libby about Plame's job or discussed it with him between June 11 and July 10 or 11.

The consequences
Walton explained to the jurors that they must weigh the truth of several different statements by Libby in the various counts.

On the obstruction count, Walton said they could find Libby guilty if they unanimously decided any one, or more, of three Libby statements were lies: that Russert asked Libby if Plame worked at CIA and said all the reporters knew it, that Libby was surprised to learn the Plame information from Russert or that Libby told Cooper he'd heard it from reporters but didn't know it was true.

On one count of lying to the FBI, jurors could find Libby guilty if they found either or both of his statements about the Russert call were lies, Walton explained. The other count of lying to the FBI hinges on Libby's statement about the Cooper call.

On two counts of perjury, jurors would have to weigh various Libby statements to the grand jury about how he learned about Plame's job and whom he told, including four separate statements in one count, Walton said.

Prosecutors argued that Libby concocted lies to make his discussions of Plame with reporters appear to be innocent gossip so that he would not risk losing his job for giving them classified information without authorization.

The defense argued that Libby had an innocent lapse of memory, and his lawyer attempted to show that government witnesses also had memory flaws.

NBC's Joel Seidman contributed to this story.