Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I. Lewis Libby made it official in responding to a question by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton that he decided against testifying in his perjury, obstruction, and false statements trial. While once almost a foregone conclusion that Libby would take the stand to offer his memory (or "dedicated but overworked public servant") defense, his lawyers have succeeded in getting at least some information before the jury about how busy he was during the relevant time. John Hannah, Libby's successor as Vice-President Cheney's national security adviser, testified that Libby was very forgetful -- what a surprise -- and that he dealt with a wide variety of pressing issues that could easily distract him. Earlier media witnesses testified that Libby did not tell them about Valerie Plame's status with the CIA, apparently to buttress the claim that he did not speak to anyone about her because he did not know her role (except for the forgotten information from Vice-President Cheney). Another potential witness who will not be called is the Vice-President, who may have done Libby harm regarding the focus on Joseph Wilson's charges against the Adminnistration. While the outlines of Libby's defense have been presented to the jury, an AP report (here) states that Judge Walton will not allow references to whether Libby considered the Niger trip of Wilson, Plame's husband, to be something of importance because only Libby can testify as to what was on his mind, and that won't be happening now.
The decision whether to testify, particularly in a white collar crime case, is always risky, and there is no template to tell a witness or defense counsel which is the better course. The list of cases in which a defendant testified and was convicted (e.g. Bernie Ebbers, Jeffrey Skilling) can be matched by those who did not and were acquitted (e.g. Richard Scrushy). The jury's verdict will be ascribed, at least in part, to this decision, so if there's a conviction the defense lawyer will be wrong either way, while an acquittal will be attributed to the prescience of the decision. (ph)