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Inside Politics

Libby trial reveals what prosecutor wouldn't

By Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents and producers share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. CNN's Kevin Bohn has been in the courtroom as the perjury and obstruction trial of the vice president's former chief of staff has unfolded.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby goes on, we are learning more and more about special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, which was prompted by the leak that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent.

Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 to oversee the probe, which originally was being led by the Justice Department's criminal division.

The only public comment Fitzgerald made about the case before the trial began was in his news conference in October 2005.

Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, is charged with lying to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating who leaked Plame's identity to the press.

Now we learning what witnesses told FBI agents or testified before a grand jury, and we are gaining more insight through the release of many documents related to the case.

Those range from a mundane calendar of then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman to the often-talked about memo from the State Department's intelligence unit about former ambassador Joseph Wilson's 2002 trip to investigate claims that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium in Africa.

We have seen correspondence between the Justice Department and Fitzgerald's office and Vice President Dick Cheney's office asking for documents, as well as subpoenas that were issued.

In fact, David Addington, the vice president's current chief of staff, says his office handed over more than 12,000 documents as part of the probe, including many handwritten notes from Libby himself.

Some of those notes had to be analyzed by experts to figure out exactly what Libby was saying since his handwriting is notoriously bad.

One of the more intriguing exhibits was the handwritten note from the vice president in which he appears to talk about how Libby should not be made a scapegoat.

"Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy (the words 'the Pres.' are marked out) that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others," Cheney wrote.

Jurors questioning witnesses

One unusual thing in this trial: allowing the jurors to ask questions of witnesses. Lawyers say it's rare in federal courtrooms but occurring more in some federal trials.

The presiding judge, Reggie Walton, is a former superior court judge where this practice is more common. Some lawyers say there is a lot of discussion about this type of activity to try to get the jury more involved and to allow them to address any doubts they might have.

Jurors have so far posed several questions for most of the witnesses.

When prosecutors and defense attorneys are finished with the witness, the jurors are given the chance to write questions on note cards which are handed to the judge. He and the lawyers on both sides then have a conference to decide if the questions are appropriate for this witness or if they ask for speculation, whether they involve classified information, or whether they are asking about issues too far afield.

One of the questions posed by the jury for former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was, "Why did you make the decision to go to jail?"

Miller had discussed it briefly in her earlier testimony. In answer to the juror's question she said, "Because everything that I do and I have done in Washington -- all of my reporting depended on people coming to me and being able to trust me that I would protect them."

For former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, one juror wanted to know more about the procedure used to make sure he understood an official was discussing classified information with him.

Many of the questions asked about specific points raised during testimony of the various witnesses, which seemed to indicate the jurors were paying pretty close attention.

There are several questions the judge has said he couldn't ask. One of them involved a request for classified information that caused the judge and lawyers to talk for an extended period. Eventually, the judge denied the request for the specific document.

Journalists also on trial

Libby is not the only person being scrutinized in this trial. Several high-profile journalists have testified and others are expected to be called.

How journalists keep their notes, where they keep their notes and how they interpret attribution for information they were given have come under the microscope. There have been legal fights over the journalists' notes.

Some major points of stories weren't in their notes. Under cross-examination, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper admitted there is no reference to the quote he says Libby gave him confirming that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Defense attorneys also pointed out some of the sloppiness in Cooper's note taking.

When Miller explained that she had found about 50 notebooks in a shopping bag under her desk, defense attorney William Jeffress asked, "Was this standard method used for archiving your notes?"

After some in the courtroom chuckled, Miller responded "No. I was actually intending to take them home" but didn't get a chance to before she was jailed for contempt for refusing to discuss her sources with the grand jury.

Miller refused to answer questions from other reporters Wednesday afternoon after she had been grilled by Libby's attorneys. She was heard to tell her attorney that she was relieved it was over.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, right, is accused of lying to agents and a grand jury investigating who leaked a CIA operative's identity.


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