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Weeks of testimony reviewed as jury readies for Libby case

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (left) greeted Theodore Wells, one of his defense lawyers, at federal court yesterday. Jurors could begin deliberations later today. (pablo martinez monsivais/associated press)

WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors told the jury yesterday that former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby made up a ludicrous lie to save his job during the CIA leak investigation. But defense attorneys said he behaved like an innocent man with a bad memory.

The federal court jurors remained attentive as four lawyers summarized the Libby case in more than six hours of closing arguments. The defense displayed lists, documents, and testimony transcripts and played video and audio clips to help jurors review 14 days of evidence in repetitive, almost line-by-line detail.

The arguments built to a crescendo as defense lawyer Theodore Wells, whose voice rose and fell dramatically, choked back a sob as he asked the jurors to acquit his client no matter how they "may feel about the war in Iraq or the Bush administration."

Wells was followed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who laced his rebuttal to the defense with sarcasm. Fitzgerald said that, by lying, Libby "threw sand in the eyes of the FBI investigators and the grand jury" trying to find out whether someone leaked classified information that could endanger lives.

Wells and Fitzgerald clashed over how important Libby and his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, considered CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson , wife of prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson. The case began with a Robert Novak column on July 14, 2003, that disclosed that Plame Wilson worked at the CIA and that she had suggested Wilson go to Niger in 2002.

Wilson said his trip debunked a report that Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons. He said Cheney would have heard Wilson's conclusions long before President Bush cited the report as a justification for war, because Cheney's questions had prompted the trip.

"The wheels were falling off the Bush administration" in the summer of 2003, Wells thundered. How could Libby, serving Cheney as both chief of staff and national security adviser, remember Plame Wilson's job when 100,000 US troops were in Iraq and hadn't found the weapons of mass destruction the administration had cited to justify the war? Wells asked.

Wells said Plame Wilson's job wasn't the sort of information someone would remember. "All of us misremember things," Wells said.

Fitzgerald countered that "the question of who sent him was hugely important" to Cheney and Libby, because "there was a cloud over Cheney." After Wilson's criticism, the first talking points Cheney's office sent to the White House press secretary said Cheney didn't send Wilson, didn't know he went to Niger, and never got his report, Fitzgerald noted.

Fitzgerald said CIA briefer Craig Schmoll's notes show that on June 14 and July 14, amid his briefings about national security issues and terrorist threats, Cheney and Libby asked questions related to Plame Wilson.

Cheney also dictated talking points and on-the-record statements he wanted Libby to deliver personally to reporters. "There was an obsession" in the vice president's office with the Wilson matter, Fitzgerald argued.

Wells argued that the talking points didn't mention Plame Wilson specifically, and defense lawyer William Jeffress pointed out that six reporters didn't recall Libby mentioning her.

Fitzgerald came back with the testimony of Cheney's top press aide, Cathie Martin, that "the best way to leak something is to tell one person." Libby and Cheney picked Judith Miller of The New York Times and that's why Libby spent two hours on an interview with her during the busy week after Wilson's criticism was published, Fitzgerald argued.

Libby is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters about Plame Wilson and obstructing the leak investigation. The jury could begin deliberating today .

Libby says he first learned about Plame Wilson's job from Cheney on June 11 but that in the press of serving as chief of staff and national security adviser to Cheney during the war, he forgot that and was surprised when NBC reporter Tim Russert told him that on July 10 or 11.

Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson. Miller and another reporter testified that Libby told them where she worked.