Attorneys for convicted former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby began working on a request for a new trial Wednesday as the Bush White House steadfastly refused to talk about a possible pardon in the CIA leak case.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was found guilty of perjury and obstruction in the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. He is the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since the Iran-Contra scandal two decades ago.
Government prosecutors led by Patrick Fitzgerald spent nearly four years investigating the case but never charged anyone with the leak. Libby will be the only one charged in the case, Fitzgerald said.
Libby's attorneys tried to use that at trial to persuade jurors that, since nobody was charged in the case, Libby didn't fear prosecution for the leak and so he had no reason to lie. Juror Denis Collins summed up the dilemma that he and his associates faced behind closed doors.
"There was a frustration that we were trying someone for telling a lie apparently about an event that never became important enough to file charges anywhere else," he said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Another juror, Ann Redington, said on MSNBC's "Hardball" Wednesday that Libby seemed to be “a really nice guy.”
“I think he got caught in a difficult situation where he got caught in the initial lie, and it just snowballed,” she told host Chris Matthews.
Reasons for a retrial
Attorney William Jeffress, meantime, said that Libby's defense team has begun reviewing the monthlong trial and preparing the request for a new one. It's a common request among defense attorneys and one that's not often granted. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton had made several rulings in the case over the objection of defense attorneys.
For instance, Fitzgerald was allowed to show jurors newspaper articles that defense lawyers considered inaccurate and inflammatory. Defense attorneys were not permitted to question NBC reporters Tim Russert or Andrea Mitchell about televised statements they made outside of court. And Walton curtailed the use of classified information after Libby decided not to testify.
The request for a new trial is the first move in Libby's uncertain future. He faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced June 5, but his federal sentencing guidelines are much lower. His lawyers promised to ask for a new trial and said they'll ask that Libby remain free while any appeals are fought.
"We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated," defense attorney Theodore Wells said. He said Libby was "totally innocent and that he did not do anything wrong."
Potential presidential pardon
And then there's the lingering question of whether President Bush will pardon Libby, as the president's father did in 1992 for former Reagan administration officials caught up in the scandal that grew out of arms sales to Iran and the diversion of proceeds to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Redington, the juror, said Wednesday she would like Bush to pardon Libby.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., immediately called on Bush not to pardon Libby. The White House wouldn't say what the president might do.
White House press secretary Tony Snow on Wednesday brushed off questions about whether Bush would entertain a pardon for Libby, saying the case remained under legal review. "We never comment on pardons," he said. Snow followed the same position the White House had taken Tuesday in the hours immediately after the verdict.
Snow also said that the case has not affected Cheney's effectiveness as a trusted Bush adviser.
In a written statement, Cheney called the verdict disappointing and said he was saddened for Libby and his family too. "As I have said before, Scooter has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction through many years of public service."
The trial revealed Cheney's eagerness to discredit Plame's husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. Cheney put Libby, his most trusted adviser, in charge of that effort and prosecutors said Libby discussed Plame's identity with reporters.
The case offered a glimpse into the inner workings of the administration, its policies on talking to reporters and its strategies for dealing with a crisis.
But the trial failed to answer all the lingering questions. It offered little new information about whether Bush was involved or whether he authorized any leaks. Defense attorneys never delivered Cheney or Libby to the witness stand as promised to discuss the White House effort to undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a campaign that resulted in the disclosure of his wife Valerie Plame's job at the CIA.
Libby's attorneys offered few details about a supposed White House conspiracy to protect Bush adviser Karl Rove from prosecution.
It also was never explained why former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who originally leaked Plame's identity, was never charged.
Now that Fitzgerald says his investigation is complete, those questions are likely to go unanswered.
"The results are actually sad," Fitzgerald told reporters after the federal jury's verdict. "It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did."
Jurors decided Libby could simply not be believed. It was not plausible, they said, that Libby forgot nine conversations about Plame.
Collins said he was intrigued when Wells raised the idea that Libby was being made a scapegoat for Rove.
"There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury. It was said a number of times, 'What are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where are these other guys?'" Collins said. "I'm not saying we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy."
Another juror, Jeff Comer, said he can only recall that idea coming up once.
Though the criminal case is over, Wilson and Plame have a civil lawsuit pending against Libby, Cheney, Armitage and others. Wilson praised the Libby verdict.
"Convicting him of perjury was like convicting Al Capone of tax evasion or Alger Hiss of perjury," Wilson said. "It doesn't mean they were not guilty of other crimes."