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Closing Arguments in CIA Leak Case Set for Feb. 20

Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday in the trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby. Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and is accused of lying to investigators probing who leaked the identity of former CIA covert officer Valerie Plame. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Libby's defense team rested its case after announcing that Libby and his former boss, Vice President Cheney, would not testify.

Judge Reggie Walton said he had been misled into believing that Libby would testify in his own defense. Judge Walton then denied a defense request to present witnesses who would support their contention that Libby was overwhelmed with pressing national security matters and simply did not remember what he told reporters about Valerie Plame.

Libby faces five felony charges of lying to investigators and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters about Plame. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence about Iraq's mass weapons program to justify the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Libby is not charged with revealing Valerie Plame's identity as a former covert CIA officer, which under some circumstances is a crime. Instead, prosecutors say Libby lied when he testified previously that he first learned of Plame's identity from a journalist.

During the trial, government witnesses testified for the prosecution that they had told Libby about Valerie Plame's CIA connection prior to his conversations with journalists, contradicting what Libby had told FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the Plame case in 2004.

"This is far removed from the original scandal, which dealt with the disclosure of a covert operative's name, the wife of a whistle blower in the administration," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University law school. "This focuses, as is often the case in Washington scandals, not with the original crime, but the response to the investigation, the response to the scandal. Libby is accused of lying about his role and actions in the scandal."

Prosecutors played audio tapes of Libby's original testimony before the grand jury, including this exchange with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asking about Vice President Cheney's reaction to the Wilson allegations concerning Iraq.

Fitzgerald: "And do you recall what it is that the vice president said?"

Libby: "I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out, that he wanted to get all the facts out."

Libby told the grand jury that Cheney had authorized him to disclose classified intelligence about Iraq's mass weapons capabilities to reporters to rebut Ambassador Wilson's contentions.

At one time, defense lawyers said they would call Vice President Cheney to testify at the trial on behalf of Libby, but they later changed their minds. It would have been the first time a sitting vice president had testified at a criminal trial.

Once closing arguments are given, the case will go to the jury.

Law professor Jonathan Turley says jurors will have to decide whether to believe the prosecution's contention that Libby lied or Libby's claim that he was too busy to remember his specific conversations with journalists about the Plame case.

"The government is going to have to prove that Libby knew that he was leaving out critical facts when he spoke with the grand jury and with investigators," he added. "Libby's argument is simple, he simply forgot, that his memory is not that good. So it becomes a test of credibility, who the jury will believe."

If convicted on all five counts, Libby could face the prospect of a 30-year prison sentence and a fine of more than one million dollars.

No one has been charged in connection with the leak of Valerie Plame's name. Plame's CIA identity became public in a newspaper column published in July of 2003 by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Last September, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage acknowledged that he was the original source of the information about Valerie Plame in conversations with Novak and Washington Post editor Bob Woodward.