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CIA leak case goes to jury

Story Highlights

• Perjury case of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby goes to jury
• Libby "made up a story and stuck to it," special prosecutor says
• Reporters knew about Plame before Libby talked about her, defense argues
• Cheney's former aide charged with lying about how CIA operative's name leaked
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 12 jurors in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby began deliberating late Wednesday morning.

They will try to determine whether Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff intentionally lied in 2003 to investigators to hide his role in the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.

The eight women and four men of the jury received about an hour of instructions from federal Judge Reggie Walton on what they could and could not consider. (Watch how memory will be critical issue in deliberations Video)

To convict Libby on any of the five felony charges he faces, the jury has to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the verdict on each charge must be unanimous. (Who are jurors)

Libby did not testify in his trial, and Walton told the jurors that was his right.

"You must not hold it against him," the judge said. It is "improper to speculate" about why he didn't testify. "You must not draw any inference of guilt."

Libby, who served as national security adviser to the vice president, faces one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements to the FBI and grand jury investigating how Plame was outed.

To knowingly disclose classified information to unauthorized recipients is a crime, and Plame's position was classified, but Libby is not accused of exposing Plame.

If convicted on all five counts, Libby, 56, could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined $1.25 million. (Five counts)

Prosecutors: Libby lied about CIA operative

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Libby lied to the FBI and a grand jury about how he heard that Plame was a CIA operative.

Peter Zeidenberg, deputy special counsel, said a series of witnesses proved the government's case.

"It's not a case about scapegoating, it's not a case about conspiracies. It's not a case about bad memories, and it's not a case about forgetting," Zeidenberg said at the start of the prosecution's closing arguments. (Watch how prosecution calls Libby a liar, defense attacks witnesses Video)

Lead defense attorney Ted Wells portrayed Libby as a fall-guy caught up in a White House effort to protect presidential political adviser Karl Rove, who turned out to be one of the sources for Robert Novak's column on July 14, 2003, that outed Plame.

Novak's other source was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Wells said Libby, who resigned in October 2005, took the fall for leaking Plame's identity to the media.

The defense argued that Libby also forgot exactly what was talked about in conversations with other journalists and government officials, because he was swamped with national defense and other issues.

Wells on Tuesday played an audio recording of Libby saying, "I get a lot of information in the course of the day."

Libby originally said he learned about Plame from NBC journalist Tim Russert on July 10, 2003, but Russert testified that although they talked on the phone that day, Plame's name did not come up.

Prosecutors contend Libby disclosed Plame's covert profession to a number of reporters as part of an effort to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had gone public with allegations that the Bush administration "twisted" some of the intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion.

High profile witnesses

"He [Libby] made up a story and he stuck to it," special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said in the prosecution's rebuttal of the defense's closing argument. "Don't you think the American people are entitled to a straight answer?"

Libby "lied to the FBI and the grand jury about how he learned about Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie [Plame], who he talked to about Mr. Wilson's wife and what he said when he discussed Mr. Wilson's wife with others," Zeidenberg said.

Since January 23, a string of former and current government officials and high-profile journalists have testified about conversations they had with Libby that may have touched on the inquiry into who leaked the information that Plame was a CIA operative.

Several journalists -- including Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, and then-Time magazine writer Matthew Cooper -- testified that Libby knew about Plame before the call with Russert.

Miller spent 85 days in jail to protect her source, Libby. Cooper testified he had an off-the-record conversation with Libby during which Libby said he heard that Plame was involved in sending her husband on the Niger fact-finding mission.

Government officials also recalled Libby mentioning Plame, including former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who said the name was passed along over lunch on July 7.

"Let's add it up, nine conversations about Mr. Wilson's wife," Zeidenberg said. "He remembers none of them. The one conversation he says he has, with Tim Russert, is a conversation we now know never happened."

Taking aim at Russert

The defense argued that Libby forgot about specific conversations with journalists and other government officials because he was swamped with national defense issues and other priorities.

In his closing remarks, Wells took aim at the credibility of Russert.

Wells played an October 28, 2005, tape of MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" in which an excited Russert tells host Don Imus that it was like Christmas Eve in the NBC newsroom as reporters anticipated a possible indictment in what had become known as the CIA leak investigation.

That is the day Libby was indicted.

"Surprise. What's going to be under the tree?" Russert can be heard saying.

"You cannot convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man. It just wouldn't be fair," Wells told the jury on Tuesday.

Wells questioned the depth of the government's case.

"You have to have so much evidence that you are confident they did something," he told jurors. "It's to give you a comfort level. There's a permanence to a guilty verdict. There's a saying in my business, 'There are no erasers on the pencils of the jurors.' "

Defense lawyer William Jeffress added, "They want you to find that in making up this story, Mr. Libby chose as his source for this information the world's most famous television newsman.

"Maybe we haven't proven that 'all the reporters knew' [about Valerie Plame], but we've shown there were an awful lot of reporters that knew this information by July 11, 2003," Jeffress said.

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.


I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, left, leaves federal court last week in Washington with his attorney, Ted Wells.



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