Washington White House officials tried to sacrifice vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to protect strategist Karl Rove from blame for leaking a CIA operative's identity during a political storm over the Iraq war, Libby's lawyer said Tuesday.
After Libby complained "they want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Vice President Dick Cheney personally intervened to get the White House press secretary to publicly clear Libby in the leak, defense attorney Theodore Wells said in his opening statement at Libby's perjury trial.
The new details of behind-the-scenes conflict at top levels of the Bush White House, along with some previously unseen blunt language from Cheney, were the high points of a dramatic day in which the prosecutor and the defense dueled in multimedia statements to the jury.
Wells also disclosed that Libby was preoccupied with many national security issues in July 2003, including possible al-Qaida threats to assassinate President Bush on a trip to Africa and the possibility al-Qaida had brought anthrax into the United States. Wells read about these threats from a court-approved summary of classified information to argue that Libby could honestly have forgotten what he told reporters about the CIA operative.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the jury Libby lied to the FBI and a grand jury about his contacts with reporters concerning CIA officer Valerie Plame to save his job and avoid political embarrassment. In a rarely seen move, Fitzgerald played four short tape recordings of Libby's statements to the grand jury that he said were lies.
The grand jury was investigating the leak of Plame's name and CIA employment, which came shortly after her husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, had become one of the most prominent critics of the months-old war. On July 6, 2003, Wilson alleged in a New York Times article and on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" that Bush had told the nation Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons although the administration had known for some time that story was untrue.
Both sides agreed the Bush White House was consumed with responding to the allegation it had lied to push the nation into war.