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Libby trial provides a rare look inside the grand jury

By Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In's 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 I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, has unfolded.

It is a rare occurrence: a defendant's grand jury testimony being played for the jury weighing whether he is guilty or innocent.

But in this case it was even rarer, because the entire testimony -- more than eight hours of audiotapes in which I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby answers hundreds of questions -- was played over three days of the trial.

The goal of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who personally conducted the questioning of Libby during his two grand jury appearances, seemed to be to impress upon the jury the stark contradictions between what prosecution witnesses testified versus Libby's account of how he learned Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.

The subjects raised with Libby ranged from the critical -- the intelligence used to go to war in Iraq -- to interesting behind the scenes insight -- how the administration tried to counter claims it was manipulating intelligence and the process used to try to spin the news media -- to the mundane -- whether he used a government or a personal phone line in his home to call back reporters and whether he billed the government when using his own phone. (Watch how the Libby trial has revealed White House intrigue Video)

When the jury was told all eight hours would be played, there was an audible gasp. Some of the questioning could be monotonous, but the jurors seemed to be mostly paying attention -- either watching the audiotape's transcript on monitors or glancing at a binder containing exhibits.

The playing of the tapes was also a rare public glimpse into a secret proceeding. Only witnesses who testify can speak publicly about what they told a grand jury, and often they don't. Prosecutors and grand jurors are not allowed to speak about the proceedings. On the tapes of Libby's appearances, when there is about to be a break in the questioning, a grand juror reminds him he is under oath.

During the sessions, grand jurors can be heard asking such things as "Since it's almost noon, is this line of questioning to take much longer?" or another grand juror inquiring "can we stretch" for a few minutes.

More journalists, more fights

Journalists will be among the first witnesses to take the stand as the defense starts its presentation Monday. Journalists are a key part of the case because what they say they were told by Libby or what Libby says he told them are at the heart of the charges against him.

Three high-profile reporters have testified for the prosecution and all have been grilled by the defense over their credibility and work standards. Expected to be called as early as Monday are Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, who was the first reporter to be told about Plame working at the CIA but who didn't write about it, and syndicated columnist Robert Novak, whose article prompted the leak investigation.

Other journalists who have been called to testify for the defense have fought the subpoenas. Judge Reggie Walton ruled against the New York Times, which was fighting to prevent two of its journalists, reporter David Sanger and Managing Editor Jill Abramson, from testifying.

Still in dispute is the subpoena for NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

There have also been several legal fights over whether various reporters' notes can be introduced.

An actor comes visiting

The trial is attracting a variety of onlookers, including lawyers not involved and bloggers, who for the first time are credentialed to cover it. One of the more unusual visitors was seen Thursday morning.

Former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, who plays a prosecutor on the NBC crime drama "Law and Order," watched a few hours of the cross-examination of Tim Russert.

Thompson, who describes himself as a friend of Libby's, is one of the members of the board of his legal defense fund, which is trying to raise $5 million. So far, the fund has taken in more than $3.5 million, an official with the fund said.

CNN's Carol Cratty contributed to this story.

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