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Jury deliberates fate of Libby in leak of CIA agent's identity

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby arrived with his wife, Harriet Grant, at the US District Court in Washington yesterday. (larry downing/reuters)

WASHINGTON -- Jurors deliberated yesterday without reaching a verdict on whether former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby obstructed the investigation into the leak of the identity of a CIA operative married to a prominent Iraq war critic.

The eight women and four men heard 14 days of testimony, a full day of closing arguments, and more than an hour of instructions from US District Judge Reggie Walton before beginning their discussions. After 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, the jurors went home until today.

The jurors include a former Washington Post reporter, an MIT-trained economist, a retired math teacher, a former museum curator, a law firm accountant, a Web architect, and several retired or current federal workers. There are 10 whites and two blacks.

Libby, who was the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, faces five felony counts that carry a combined top penalty of 30 years in prison. If convicted, Libby probably would be sentenced to far less under federal guidelines.

The trial provided behind-the-scenes details of the interaction between top reporters and government officials and of Cheney's efforts to rebut criticism of him and the administration.

The investigation began with the public identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson on July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence to push the nation into war with Iraq.

Months later, Libby told the FBI and a grand jury that he first learned that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA from Cheney on June 11. But he said that amid the press of war issues and other national security concerns, he forgot that and was surprised to hear it from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert on July 10 or 11. Thereafter, he said, he told reporters he had heard the information only from journalists and could not confirm it.

Russert testified he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson. Judith Miller, who had been a reporter with The New York Times, testified that Libby told her about Plame Wilson's CIA job. Matt Cooper, then of Time magazine, testified that Libby confirmed her employment for him. Six government officials testified they either told Libby about Plame Wilson's job or discussed it with him between June 11 and July 10 or 11.

Walton explained to the jurors that they must weigh the truth of several different statements by Libby in the various counts.

On the obstruction count, Walton said, they could find Libby guilty if they unanimously decided any one of three Libby statements were lies: that Russert asked Libby whether Plame Wilson worked at CIA and said all the reporters knew it, that Libby was surprised to learn the Plame Wilson information from Russert, or that Libby told Cooper he'd heard it from reporters but didn't know it was true.

On one count of lying to the FBI, jurors could find Libby guilty if they found either or both of his statements about the Russert call were lies, Walton explained. The other count of lying to the FBI hinges on Libby's statement about the Cooper call.

On two counts of perjury, jurors would have to weigh various Libby statements to the grand jury about how he learned about Plame Wilson's job and whom he told, Walton said.

Prosecutors argued that Libby concocted lies to make his discussions of Plame Wilson with reporters appear to be innocent gossip so that he would not risk losing his job for giving them classified information without authorization.

The defense argued that Libby had an innocent lapse of memory.

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