Guests: Joseph Wilson, Howard Fineman, Stan Brand, John Dean
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Obstruction of justice, guilty. False statements to investigators, guilty. Perjury before the grand jury, two counts, guilty and guilty.
Scooter Libby convicted on four of five charges against him in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Patrick Fitzgerald bats .800.
The Libby lies, were they to insulate the vice president only? And how long will that protection last?
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OLBERMANN: The vice president‘s former chief of staff could avoid jail if he decided to start cooperating with the prosecutor.
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PATRICK FITZGERALD, PROSECUTOR: And there was a cloud there, caused by—not caused by us, and by Mr. Libby obstructing justice and lying about what happened, he had failed to remove a cloud.
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OLBERMANN: But after 10 days of deliberation, one juror makes it clear, the cloud was not the making of Scooter Libby alone.
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DENIS COLLINS, JUROR: To put it to Mr. Wells (INAUDIBLE), he was the fall guy. It was said a number of times, What are we doing with this guy here? Where‘s Rove? Where‘s, you know, where are these other guys?
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OLBERMANN: The verdict announced at high noon.
For the White House, is it political high noon as well? Does this invoke a presidential pledge to punish anyone involved in the leak?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
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OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN‘s comprehensive coverage of today‘s big verdict.
The man who started this all, Ambassador Joe Wilson, in his first news network interview, our special guest tonight. David Shuster inside the courtroom. Attorney Stan Brand on where the investigation goes next. “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman on the political implications. And John Dean on what the jury‘s verdict means about our verdict on how the White House sold this war to America.
All that and more, now on a special edition of COUNTDOWN.
Good evening from Tampa, Florida.
Just as Al Capone‘s conviction on tax evasion charges did not mean the Mafia crime boss was not guilty of anything else, Scooter Libby‘s conviction on charges of lying and obstruction of justice does not automatically prove that Mr. Libby and other top White House officials did not commit an underlying crime of having outed CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, that parallel drawn this afternoon by Mrs. Plame‘s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, in the wake of today‘s verdict, and the question of whether others should have stood trial raised this afternoon by at least one of the jurors.
In just a moment, Ambassador Wilson joins us with more reaction in his first live interview since Mr. Libby‘s conviction.
But we begin with more on the verdict itself, a jury of his peers, finding Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff guilty on four counts of—out of five of lying and obstruction of justice. Mr. Libby first learned the identity of CIA operative Plame from his boss, the vice president, but claimed he had forgotten about that until reporters brought it to his attention later.
The prosecution said that was preposterous, the jury agreed.
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COLLINS: It was just very hard not to believe that he—he—how he could remember it on a Tuesday, and then forget it on a Thursday, and then remember it two days later.
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OLBERMANN: Prosecutors argued that Mr. Libby was part of a White House effort to discredit Plame‘s husband, Ambassador Wilson, an outspoken critic of the administration‘s case for war in Iraq, the prosecution taking no joy, it said, in today‘s verdict.
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FITZGERALD: The jury was obviously convince beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had lied and obstructed justice in a serious manner.
The results were actually sad. It‘s sad that we had a situation where a
high-level official, person who worked in the office of vice president,
obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that had not had happened
that had not happened, but it did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The four guilty verdicts, the culmination of an investigation now nearly four years old, some five years after Ambassador Wilson‘s trip to Niger to investigate charges that Saddam Hussein‘s regime had tried to purchase uranium with which to build a nuclear weapon, the defense hoping to prolong the case even further by seeking a new trial, and if that fails, planning to appeal.
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THEODORE WELLS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We believe, as we said at the time of his indictment, that he is totally innocent, totally innocent, and that he did not do anything wrong. And we intend to keep fighting to establish his innocence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As promised, in his first live interview since the verdict, I‘m joined now by the former acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson.
Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.
JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Nice to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It has been five years this month since your trip to Niger. Is there any sense of personal vindication tonight, after all you‘ve been through, after today‘s conviction of Scooter Libby?
WILSON: Well, I think Valerie and I will both sleep easier tonight, knowing that at least one part of this is behind us.
I take no satisfaction in this. I think that the idea of a senior White House official being convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury is something that ought to sadden everybody who believes in public service. The responsibility of a public servant to uphold and defend the Constitution is besmirched when they‘re convicted of crimes like this.
On the other hand, of course, I think it reconfirms that this is, in fact, a nation of laws, and that no man is above the law. And I think we can take some satisfaction that the Constitution has been defended by the prosecution, by the system of justice, and by the jury of peers that decided Mr. Libby‘s guilt today.
OLBERMANN: Your wife clearly has believed in public service all this time. Share with me what you can of Valerie‘s reaction today.
WILSON: Well, I think she wept when she heard the news. I was actually in a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and she called me up, and she just said Four out of five, guilty. And she was very relieved, I think. She will sleep well tonight, knowing, again, that this part of this ordeal is behind us.
But I would just say that whatever the last four or five years have been like for us, it‘s been mere inconvenience compared to what this administration has done to our service people and their families in the prosecution of a war that was justified on misinformation and lies, and was really undertaken not for the national security of the United States, but to prove an academic theory, which wasn‘t a very good academic theory at that.
OLBERMANN: What did that jury verdict today establish about the president, write in stone about the president and vice president, and the necessity or heedlessness of the war in Iraq?
WILSON: Well, clearly, the evidence that was—that came out during the course of this trial demonstrated that there was an obsession not with getting the facts out, but with destroying and impugning my integrity. And they used Valerie‘s employment and her status as a covert officer to do so.
What this says about the president and the vice president, I don‘t really know. I think that, frankly, now that the trial is over, the president and the vice president ought to quit hiding behind the investigation and the trial, and I think they ought to step forward and tell the American people what they know.
And I think they can begin by sharing the contents of their interviews with Mr. Fitzgerald during the investigatory phase of this.
OLBERMANN: Do you expect that to happen? I mean, the president‘s office, the White House, refused to comment further today, other than saying that it‘s an ongoing legal case, which is something we‘ve heard a thousand times before. Do you think that that‘s going to change for any reason?
WILSON: Well, I don‘t know. The president also said that he would fire anybody involved in the lake. We know that Karl Rove was involved in it. We have that testimony on the record. And he‘s still employed by the White House. So I don‘t know what to say. Is the president going to keep his word on this or anything?
OLBERMANN: Well, to that point of the others, one of the jurors said, the one who spoke publicly, that -- something that has been on a lot of minds and a lot of lips today. Why only Mr. Libby? The prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, said he does not anticipate any more charges in the case. The implication in that, perhaps, that there‘s not even a prospect of flipping Mr. Libby to testify against anybody else, because nobody else will be prosecuted. Are today‘s guilty verdicts, if they are the end of it, are they sufficient?
WILSON: Well, I leave that to the prosecutor and to the system of justice, criminal justice. We, of course, have filed a civil suit, and we‘re hopeful that that civil suit will be heard, and we will be allowed to do discovery and get the statements of Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove, and Mr. Armitage, and perhaps others.
None of them spoke at this trial, so I think that there still is our effort to get the truth out.
I had to hold civil servants and senior public servants accountable for their actions, for really abusing the public trust in the exercise of a personal political vendetta.
OLBERMANN: But there were no charges pertaining to the abuse of the public trust. There were no charges for the leak itself. There was no charge for endangering a valuable commodity in your wife‘s CIA career, only for lying in the course of the investigation. Is that a negative note sounding behind the positive ones today?
WILSON: Well, I don‘t think so. Mr. Fitzgerald said at the time of the press conference, when he announced the indictments, that justice would be served through the prosecution, irrespective of the crime that was being prosecuted. And, in fact, as we saw in the run-up to the trial, the defense attempted to use what they call graymail. They attempted to get the—force the government to decide how much classified information it was willing to release in order to allow the case to go forward.
Had there been a prosecution for the underlying crime, you can be sure that Mr. Libby‘s defense would have asked for every classified document that ever touched his desk during the six years that he was in office.
So I think the indictment was narrowly drawn, and it was understood that prosecuting under the underlying case, the IIPA, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, might be too difficult because of the way that the act is drafted, and by the possibility of classified information not being available for the defense.
OLBERMANN: The vice president issued a statement today saying he‘s very disappointed with the verdict. The president was quoted today as saying he was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family. Has any sadness ever been expressed by anyone in the administration to you or to your family?
WILSON: No, not at all. And I would have appreciated the president acknowledging some sadness for the fate of his covert CIA officer, who spent 20 years serving her country, many of those overseas, many of those in what‘s known as nonofficial cover, where she didn‘t even have the benefit of diplomatic protections if she‘d been picked up for espionage.
Yes, I would have welcomed that. But I would also welcome from the president of the United States some acknowledgement of what he‘s put our military through in the prosecution of this war in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Is there some ability now, tonight, that we did not have, say, this morning, to say that the president, in conducting this war and getting us into this war, and your wife‘s career being thrown under the bus in the process, was really the baby going out with the bathwater, that we were looking for WMDs and trying to provide a connection between rogue states and terrorists and weapons that could harm this country, and all we manage to do was increase that slightly by ending the career of somebody who was focused on preventing that thing from happening?
WILSON: Well, I can‘t really talk about what Valerie was doing. In fact, we‘re hopeful that she‘ll be able to get her book out. The CIA is taking a look at it, and they have no particular objections to the contents. They‘re trying to claim that she did not work for them before 2002, or cannot acknowledge she worked for them before 2002, which is sort of an “Alice in Wonderland,” “Through the Looking Glass.”
We may have to litigate that. This is not the USSR, this is America, and she has a right to tell her story, particularly when everybody and their uncle has already tried to tell it on her behalf. So we‘re going to litigate that.
But neither I nor she would ever talk about what specifically she was doing, a lot of which I don‘t know, frankly.
OLBERMANN: Goodness. The ultimate, I guess, the ultimate “Alice in Wonderland” quality to this entire event would be if the end result of Mr. Libby‘s conviction were not a sentence or a fine or it being overturned in court, but if he were, in fact, pardoned by President Bush. Are you anticipating that as a possibility? Do you have—have you steeled yourself for that? Do you have a reaction to the prospect, even, of it?
WILSON: Well, the president obviously has the absolute right under the Constitution to pardon. But there‘s—I think there‘s a lot of ethical questions involved. After all, Mr. Libby was an assistant to the president. And so I think there‘s an implicit and explicit conflict of interest in the president exercising his pardon authority on behalf of somebody who worked for him.
I think it would be appropriate for the president and, indeed, the entire administration to recuse itself, allow the wheels of justice to turn as they must. And if there‘s going to be a pardon discussed, it should be by a subsequent administration. And there should be an appeal process, as is normal. And Mr. Libby knows a lot about this, because he was instrumental in fighting for the pardon of Marc Rich, one of the most notorious fugitives from justice from the 1980s. And Libby was an attorney.
OLBERMANN: And ultimately, and finally, sir, I guess that you could say that the—whatever might be pardoned away in the future, the facts that were established today by that jury cannot be pardoned away.
WILSON: Well, Scooter Libby, convicted felon. That is really a sad statement for this country. But again, I look on the bright side. The Constitution, the Constitution was defended by this action, this jury of his peers. And we are most appreciative of the efforts of the judge, the prosecution, and the jury to deal with this matter.
OLBERMANN: As we are most appreciative of your time again. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in the wake of the Libby verdicts. Thank you kindly, and thank you especially for joining us first here on the show.
WILSON: Thanks, Keith, very much.
OLBERMANN: Complete analysis of the Libby guilty verdicts ahead in this newshour. David Shuster takes us inside the courtroom for the dramatic scene as the jury‘s decision was read.
And the political implications for the White House. Will there be new pressure on the president to do something about the leak, given his past promises, as Mr. Wilson just mentioned? And would that be an investigation, or a pardon?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The evidence in the case of the People versus Lewis Libby spread out over 34 sheets of paper, each of them two feet by two and a half feet. A juror has now said that in the end, quoting him, “Opinion had very little to do with it. You just came to this conclusion that, wow, OK, here it is, right before us,” it being our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the hard facts behind today‘s guilty verdicts on the counts of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice, verdicts coming out of Courtroom 16 in federal court for the District of Columbia, at 12:04 Eastern this afternoon.
Let‘s turn to our own David Shuster, who watched today‘s proceedings, as he has done since day one.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Besides rejecting one count of making false statements, the jury actually did buy into one of the arguments presented by Mr. Libby‘s defense, correct?
SHUSTER: Yes, that‘s right. I mean, the defense had argued during the trial that Scooter Libby was a sacrificial lamb to protect others, and the jury, in fact, did believe. One of the jurors said that Libby was a essentially the fall guy, that others involved in this, including Karl Rove, should have also been held to account. This information came just moments after there was the jury foreperson reading the verdict, Scooter Libby was expressionless. His wife started sobbing. One of the other members of the jury was also crying.
And then just moments later we started talking to the jury, and one of them said that if they did apparently believe that Scooter Libby took action simply at the behest of Vice President Cheney. The evidence that the jury heard in this case included Scooter Libby‘s grand jury audio testimony, where he acknowledged that he and Vice President Cheney may have discussed leaking Valerie Wilson‘s identity to reporters.
Libby also acknowledged talking with Vice President Cheney on the eve of the criminal investigation, just days before Libby started making false statements.
Here is juror Denis Collins.
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COLLINS: It was said a number of times, What are we doing with this guy here? Where‘s Rove? Where‘s, you know, where are these other guys? We‘re not saying that we didn‘t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of, but that it seemed like he was, to put it in Mr. Wells‘ point of view, he was the fall by. He was -- Now, he made bad judgments, and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) was he the fall guy for Vice President Cheney? (INAUDIBLE)?
COLLINS: (INAUDIBLE), the belief of the jury was (INAUDIBLE) that he was—he was tasked by the vice president to go and talk to reporters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the jury at the end of the case that Scooter Libby‘s motive to lie to investigators was to protect himself and to protect Vice President Cheney.
In the fall of 2003, going into an election year, it would have been, of course, politically fatal if the White House and Libby acknowledged their information that led to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson had come from government officials and not reporters.
So prosecutors said Libby concocted a story, blaming this knowledge about Valerie Wilson on reporters, and covering up that the information actually first came from Libby‘s boss.
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FITZGERALD: Mr. Libby had the information he gave out from an official source and understood that the vice president had it from an official source, not from a reporter. So the contention we made was that Mr. Libby learned it from a number of officials, first learning it from the vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The evidence that Scooter Libby first learned about Valerie Wilson from the vice president clearly had an impact on the jury. But juror Denis Collins noted that the jury concluded that eight other government officials also discussed Wilson with Libby before Valerie Wilson was outed, and for that reason, Collins said, the evidence was clear, and that whatever opinions or emotions the jury might have had about Scooter Libby were far outweighed by the evidence that the jury concluded that, in fact, Scooter Libby had lied and obstructed the investigation, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Barring delays in this, David, sentencing is June 5. Are there expectations and guidance on the prison sentence?
SHUSTER: Yes, based on Scooter Libby being a first-time offender, he faces fines up to $1 million and prison time of anywhere between three and four and a half years. Attorneys and legal experts believe that because Libby is a government official, or was a government official, that Judge Walton will give him the upper end of the spectrum.
The key question, of course, will be whether Judge Walton allows Libby to stay out of prison pending his appeals. Some judges will allow somebody to do that, others will not. An appeal could last a year on that. But if the judge says, no, Libby cannot stay out on his appeals, in other words, if the judge concludes there‘s not a reason to believe that he will be successful on appeal, then that puts the issue of a pardon essentially into play this summer, when the president, of course, still has a year and half left on his term.
OLBERMANN: Is the prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, done with Libby, done with the case at this point? Or is the door open a crack? It is never over until it‘s over?
SHUSTER: It‘s not. It‘s open, but it is just a crack. Prosecutors do believe that Scooter Libby has information about Vice President Cheney that could further this investigation, specifically, Scooter Libby couldn‘t remember details of crucial conversations with Vice President Cheney just before Valerie Wilson was outed, and then again conversations with Vice President Cheney on the eve of the criminal investigation.
Prosecutors are convinced that Scooter Libby will never flip, but they are willing to cut a deal if Libby has a change of heart. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Mr. Libby have an opportunity to get a downward departure on sentencing from you if he provides additional information?
FITZGERALD: We‘re not going to comment about anything. Mr. Libby is like any other defendant. If his counsel or he wish to pursue any options, they can contact us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Again, prosecutors are saying something that we believe they said privately, Libby can negotiate if he wants, but they have no expectation that he will actually do so, Keith.
OLBERMANN: David Shuster, faithfully following every development in the Scooter Libby trial. And great thanks for that. We‘re sorry you didn‘t even get one of those Valentine‘s Day T-shirts out of the jury. But great thanks for everything else.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The next court proceeding will be, as Joe Wilson mentioned, he and his wife‘s civil lawsuit against those who outed her. But given Mr. Fitzgerald‘s winking hint to Mr. Libby, Why don‘t you come up and implicate somebody to me sometime, is there any remaining chance of any remaining prosecutions? We‘ll look at that in depth.
And the political remainder. How will the president and vice president remove the cloud of suspicion from the White House? Do they even care about it? Howard Fineman and John Dean will join me.
All ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Continuing with COUNTDOWN‘s special coverage of the conviction of Scooter Libby, the jury says he perjured himself, in essence, to protect the administration‘s marketing campaign for war in Iraq.
Can the president risk hardening that offense, especially before the 2008 election?
Also, Mr. Libby‘s former boss, the vice president, says he‘s disappointed with today‘s verdict. But is that because it leaves him in political cross-hairs? Not to mention that it serves as a damning indictment of the way the White House sold the war in Iraq, then covered up the flaws in its sales pitch.
We‘ll solicit the perspective of former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, on the wider ramifications of today‘s verdicts.
Also, the next legal maneuvers in this case. The prosecutor says his investigation into the Plame leak is now over, barring new information. But could such information come from Scooter Libby‘s own attorneys, looking to keep him out of prison?
All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Scooter Libby was often described as Dick Cheney‘s Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby was the enforcer, the man who made sure that the vice- president‘s imperatives executed. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, with the vice-president‘s role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson at least partly unearthed by the trial, with Cheney‘s scorched Earth tactics during the drum beats before the war newly transparent tonight, Mr. Libby‘s conviction today makes on thing perfectly clear, there sand throwers in the White House and smoke blowers as well.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald today getting out ahead of any possible spin with some more memorable imagery of his own. First it was the sand, now it is the smoke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZGERALD: There was a cloud there, not caused by us. And by Mr. Libby obstructing justice and lying about what happened, he had failed to remove the cloud. Sometimes when people tell the truth, clouds disappear, sometimes they don‘t. But when you don‘t know what is happening, that is a problem. The fact that there was a cloud over anyone was not our doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The forecast for the administration, at least partly cloudy, not the first, nor the last likely over this administration. But for the political implications for the vice president, the president and what is left of the presidency, let‘s turn to “Newsweek” Magazine‘s chief political correspondent, MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman. Howard good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. Do they care or are these verdicts irrelevant to them?
FINEMAN: I don‘t think they are entirely irrelevant. It is tempting to think of them as characters in the “Treasure of Sierra Madre” or something like that. We don‘t need no stinking badges. But I think it matters, because I think when you are talking about convicted felons who used to work a few feet down a hall from the Oval Office, and who was, as you say, Dick Cheney‘s Dick Cheney, I think it matters. And I think the president‘s rather restrained statement today about honoring the justice system, to summarize, I think was a little difference from the tone of Dick Cheney, which was that he was very disappointed.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Cheney was never named as a suspect here or a subject, or an unindicted co-conspirator, but did the trial, the testimony and particularly the outcome, judicial seal of approval of the facts as the prosecutor laid them out, exact nearly as much damage as if he had been formally involved in this case?
FINEMAN: Well, I think it does put a gloss of legal process on what a lot of Cheney‘s critics have thought all along, which is that he was the stage manager in the leaks and the manipulation of intelligence before the war in Iraq, and in defending that week intelligent after we went there and did not find weapons of mass destruction. So it puts a legal seal of approval on a lot of accusations that have been made, because the prosecutors whole theory here was that Scooter Libby‘s motive was to protect the man behind the curtain, and the man behind the curtain, sort of pulling all the levers of the leaks, was Dick Cheney.
OLBERMANN: When confronted with inconvenient truths, to use a phrase that just happens to be out there, the White House has been, in good days and in bad days, pretty good at denying them anyway. When confronted with unfortunate history being brought back to mind, this White House has been good about rewriting the history. Is there something equally slick to be done here, to be attempted here politically to try to salvage something out of this?
FINEMAN: I don‘t think you are is going to see the White House doing it itself. I‘m not even sure you‘re going to see the Republican National Committee doing it. I‘m not sure how many Republicans on the Hill are going to be willing to do it. But some conservatives are already talking about the fact that this was a D.C. jury, a District of Columbia jury, what more can you expect they imply. They talk about the fact that there was a former “Washington Post” reporter on the jury.
I mean, they are grasping at straws at this point, because this was a strong verdict on four of the five counts. It was just flat out clear to the jury, and they are the finders of fact. So these are now the approved facts—that Scooter Libby was lying through his teeth when he said that Tim Russert was the guy who told him about Valerie Plame. That was just a flat out lie and that is going to stay regardless of whatever else is said by the conservatives trying to spin this the other away.
OLBERMANN: Yes, there were eight people ahead of any conversation with Mr. Russert, let alone he is one of the sources, which was also found not to bet the truth. But certainly there is one statement here that from the surface looks like it can‘t be made to disappear, Mr. Bush‘s statement, repeated so often within the administration, that anyone in the administration who was found to have leaked Valerie Plame‘s identity, he would get rid of them, he would punish them. Does he have to do something now because of all the other people who are still there and implicated by this, or does choose to face that question every day for the rest of the term, or can he get out by rationalizing it and say, you know, Libby was only convicted of lying, not of leaking a covert identity?
FINEMAN: Well, I think in his next press conference, that is exactly what he‘s going to say Keith. Because he is going to say that the prosecutor declined to prosecute on the underlying charge, which is about leaking the classified identity of a covert CIA aid worker. That is the fig leaf that the president will present. He will get away with that up to a point, but the overall picture portrayed in the court by the prosecutor and accepted by the jury is of the White House that was playing fast and loose with covert identities and classified information.
They were manipulating intelligence for their own political and geo-strategic ends. That is pretty much what most of America has come to believe already. It‘s just this puts an official seal of court proceedings on that.
OLBERMANN: OK, can he pardon him? Or by pardoning him sometime later this year or in 2008, does he only guarantee that it becomes part of the 2008 presidential campaign?
FINEMAN: Oh, I think if he does it later in the year, it does become part of the campaign for sure. I mean, if there‘s going to be a pardon, he‘ll do it at the very end of his term, the same way Bill Clinton pardoned some people at the end of his.
OLBERMANN: Our own Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” Magazine. As always Howard, great thanks for your time.
FINEMAN: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, John Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon, with his perspective on what today‘s conviction says about the Bush administration and its selling of the war in 2003.
And pardon me, Mr. President, barring receiving that most drastic of get out of jail free cards, what do Scooter Libby‘s attorneys do now? That is next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: In his worst judge scenario, Scooter Libby could be sent to prison for 25 years. But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, his lawyers are already moving to overturn his conviction. While Libby remains out on bail until sentencing in June, his defense team planning to ask for a new trial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED WELLS, LIBBY‘S ATTORNEY: We intend to file a motion for a new trial. And if that is denied, we will appeal the conviction. And we have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Or pardoned, whichever comes first. To help figure out what happens now legally, I am joined by defense attorney Stanley Brand, veteran of previous Hill proceedings, such as the steroid hearings, the Whitewater investigations. Stan, thanks again for your time tonight.
STAN BRAND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Almost every convicted defendant in every case in ever court appeals. Almost every appeal fails. Is there anything you saw in this case, in this trial, in the conducting of it, suggesting that there was a huge gaping hole in judicial conduct that could make this appeal work?
BRAND: Did not see the kind of reversible error that you would need to get a new trial or reverse the conviction. I thought that the judge handled some difficult issues pretty well and the likelihood of success on appeal is slim.
OLBERMANN: You have previously worked alongside Mr. Libby‘s attorney, Mr. Wells. He has already tried crying in the summation to get the jury to give Mr. Libby back to him. Is he going to tease out an appeals process to keep Libby out of jail and then hope for a presidential pardon? Is that the apparent strategy at this point?
BRAND: Well, it is interesting, because the judge left open the possibility that he could be remanded to custody pending appeal, because he only gave him bond to the sentencing in June. So, in June we will find out how hard the judge wants to be. Typically, you‘re free pending appeal.
OLBERMANN: How long can you stretch this out? How long, barring a new trial, new verdict or a pardon—Is there a time limit on this appealing process?
BRAND: I would say it is going to take a six to nine months to get to the court of appeals, and then you have the hail Mary possibility to the Supreme Court, which is probably another 90 to 120 days. So, you certainly could string it out a year.
OLBERMANN: One of the possible outcomes here, certainly before it went to the jury and even, to some degree, while the jury was deliberating was this thought that maybe if Fitzgerald got the conviction, he might be able to in some way, lean further on Scooter Libby, to flip him some way, to turn state‘s witness on this, maybe even against the vice president, in return for a lighter sentence. But let me play the tape of what he said about the investigation today and then ask you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZGERALD: I do not expect to file any further charges. We‘re all going back to our day jobs. If information comes to light or new information comes to us that would warrant us taking some action, we will do that. But I would not create the expectation that any of us will be doing further investigation at this point. We see the investigation as inactive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So he leaves that small possibility, Stan, but does that ever happen?
BRAND: It does happen. He is a careful man and we have learned that about him. The problem here is that your leverage as defendant to trade up in the parlance, is before you‘re convicted and before trial, and the expense of a trial. Certainly he could try to proffer something that would be useful to Fitzgerald, with respect to others in the White House. The problem with that is that he does so as a convicted felon. So his credibility as a witness against the higher ups is limited.
He would have to get independent corroboration. He would have to get some other evidence.
OLBERMANN: The pardon issue has already been discussed so heavily, long before there was a conviction, long before today. Leaving the politics out of it, if he—what is there to ensure that there was not a pre-arranged pardon? What are the legal defenses against that, that the system has to make sure that whatever Mr. Libby may have thought, that there could not actually be something offered to him under the table to take this bullet for them?
BRAND: We saw that during the waning days of the Clinton administration, where the U.S. attorney in New York investigated alleged bribes to President Clinton‘s brother-in-law, in return for trying to get help for pardon applicants. So, the president has absolute discretion to grant a pardon to whomever he wants for whatever reason. However, if there is skullduggery and criminality apart from the pardon, that precipitated it, that is certainly open to investigation by the Justice Department.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, was there anything in the conduct of the defense that suggested that they acted like they had a pardon in their back pocket?
BRAND: I don‘t think so. I think they made a lawyer like decision, that to put him on the stand would blow away whatever small chance they had at creating reasonable doubt. And I think that‘s why they didn‘t put on much of a defense.
OLBERMANN: As we discussed when the defense closed, with very little evidence put out there. Stanley Brand, defense attorney, great thanks for your insight again.
BRAND: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: Scooter Libby guilty, and by extension so to is the administration for whom he worked. Will it also become confirmation that the selling of the war was criminal, if not exactly criminally prosecuted? Nixon White House counsel John Dean will help put Libby‘s conviction in context, next her on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Ultimately, whether Lewis Scooter Libby becomes the symbol for administration lies about Iraq or merely a footnote depends largely on what happens next. Whether he‘s pardoned, whether additional facts emerge from the White House in the future, whether anything else happens in the wake of the fact that the one man, who according to the prosecutor, threw sand in the face of the referee, has been, to continue the analogy, thrown out of the game.
In the number one story on the COUNTDOWN, we move from the legal verdict to the verdict of history. The second paragraph of today‘s Associated Press coverage reminding us that Libby is the highest ranking White House official, Cheney‘s chief of staff, an assistant to the president, to be convicted of a felony since Iran Contra. And again, that felony, that crime, committed in the context of a White House bent on pursuing a war of its own choosing, hiding the truth of that war from the American people.
Let‘s turn to the man who was widely seen as refusing to be a fall guy for Watergate, Richard Nixon‘s White House counsel, John Dean, author most recently of “Conservatives Without Conscience,” and a friend of this program. Once again, sir, great thanks for you perspectives tonight.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let me paraphrase you to you. There may not exactly be a cancer growing on this presidency, but the jury sure gave it a bad diagnosis today. After these verdicts, can we quantify how bad it is?
DEAN: Well, it certainly - I may have misnamed my book in calling it “Worse Than Watergate.” It‘s much, much worse than Watergate. It‘s a sad day. It‘s an unfortunate day to see somebody at this level proceed the way he has. I‘m most depressed by the day.
OLBERMANN: Is this, in your opinion, a self-contained conviction? Or is it the other end of the extreme here, the fatal break in the dike? Or is it somewhere in the middle? Will we learn more about the White House and the manufacturing of a war?
DEAN: Well, I think that is going to depend on what happens next, obviously. If, for any reason, Mr. Libby had a change of heart, which I don‘t suspect, that could change the dynamics, or if Congress jumps in, that too could change the dynamic, and use this as a launching pad to begin to look into what really went on.
OLBERMANN: Joe Wilson said earlier in the interview on this program that what needs to happen now is for the administration to be pushed to release, voluntary or otherwise, maybe the Congressional investigation idea comes into play here, the transcripts of the FBI‘s conversations, its interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Number one, how valuable would that be to understanding what happened. Number two, how suicidal would that be on the part of this White House, if they let it happen?
DEAN: Well, we don‘t know how forthcoming they were. We know they both had counsel. They were concerned enough to do that. I would think Joe Wilson might be able to get those in his civil lawsuit. So he may well be able to bring those out to the public.
I don‘t know what the dimensions will be. I suspect that they were guarded, but probably tried to be careful, too.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned a little earlier feeling depressed today. Was there a sense, in terms of a historical comparison between your own experience and your own White House, and this one, and Mr. Libby‘s experience, that this might have been the outcome of Watergate, if things had fallen differently, and people had not said no, enough is enough? I‘m not going to lie my way all the way to prison.
DEAN: Well Keith, I thought of all the people who did lie during Watergate, from John Mitchell, the former attorney general, to the chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, to the chief domestic advisor, John Ehrlichman, to the appointment secretary, Dwight Chapin, all who went to jail for their lying. And it was all foolish. I never understand why somebody thinks they can get away with that, particularly in a Grand Jury or a congressional setting, but yet they tried, as Libby did, and it didn‘t work.
OLBERMANN: Even if we never learn more than we found out as of today, even if this is the last stamp of judicial and jury approval on a set of facts, what have this trial and the verdict told us about the way President Bush and Vice President Cheney sold their war to the American people? What has been established beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury, saying what it said today?
DEAN: We certainly know there is no degree or minutia to which they will not go to deal with problems that they feel threatened by. For example, Joe Wilson‘s op-ed was just that, an op-ed. It was his opinion on an editorial page. If they had nothing to hide, there wouldn‘t have been all this action. So, it was a clear signal that to put this kind of effort and time and devotion they could be spending on a lot of other things, to trying to discredit a man, that they had a lot to hide.
So that‘s why, again, it leaves all these open questions.
OLBERMANN: And the question that Joe Wilson could not answer, let me throw it at you, that the final irony to this is that perhaps we now can say with some level of historical certainty that a White House that claimed to be going after the possible connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists by going in to Iraq, in defending that action, threw away an asset designed to prevent the connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. Can we say that now with certainty?
DEAN: Well, I don‘t think we can. We do know that—and we don‘t know how far it reached—that they‘re not hesitant to disassemble when necessary. We know that they did try to put out the false story and we know that Scooter Libby, from other sources actually, was one of the ones internally trying to sell the war within the White House for Cheney. And this is a very unfortunate consequence, but maybe a very telling consequence for the way they did try to sell the war and somewhat symbolic of the way they tried to sell the war, or did sell the war.
OLBERMANN: The subject of pardons and Nixon‘s White House came up, of course, recently with the passing of Gerald Ford and the whole idea of something being set up in advance, which was denied, after his death, by the people closest to President Ford. Is the last stone unturned on this, or perhaps the most important stone unturned on this, the question of whether or not Scooter Libby felt he had some sort of guarantee, some sort of pardon in his pocket?
DEAN: Well, we obviously don‘t know. That would have been something
that would have occurred probably very personally between Cheney and Libby,
who were close friends. I happen to be one who believes that Bush probably
will pardon Libby, that he will never go to jail for this. It will be a
question of timing, based on his appeal and the circumstance. So, it will be a very dangerous, however, because Bush has clearly a conflict of interest. He‘s protecting himself, not unlike his father was with Casper Weinberger.
So it will ring through history and will certainly not help his standing in history, either.
OLBERMANN: But obviously, especially if he waits until January of 2009 to do that, this will be a question for history, not for our current political climate, correct?
DEAN: Well, there‘s about 22 months left in this presidency. An appeal shouldn‘t take that long, so it could well confront Bush long before then, because I‘m sure that Cheney doesn‘t want to see Scooter spend a day in jail, because that could flip him, if he thought he was about to go off. So I think the timing on this is going to be very tricky. It could well happen much earlier and before the administration is headed out the door. As Howard Fineman said, obviously that‘s the preference. That‘s when they would like to do it. But reality may change that dimension for them.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll keep our asbestos gloves handy, just in case those fireworks come out, as you suggest. John Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate,” and “Conservatives Without Conscience,” as always, sir, great thanks for your perspective in covering this story for us.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,423rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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