The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times lead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the big news out of a courthouse in Washington yesterday, where I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted of lying about his role in the leak that identified an undercover CIA officer in 2003. Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff was found guilty of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and one count of making false statements to the FBI. He was acquitted of one count of making false statements to the FBI. Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal. Defense attorneys said they will ask for a retrial, and if it’s not granted they will appeal.
USA Todaygives big play to the Libby conviction but leads with a look at how some federal lawmakers and officials in at least four states are trying to get government-employee pension funds to stop investing in foreign companies that do business in Iran.
The judge set sentencing for June 5 and although Libby could technically get up to 25 years in prison, the papers point out he is likely to face anywhere from one-and-a-half to three years. Republicans were fighting an uphill battle trying to emphasize that the conviction was solely about Libby and was not an indictment of the administration. But many, including Democrats in Congress, saw it as symbol of the Bush administration’s actions in the run-up to the Iraq war. The verdict is likely to bring more problems to the already embattled White House, particularly the unpopular vice president. “The verdict contributed to the sense of a White House under siege,” says the NYT.
By all accounts, Libby remained calm and barely moved as the jury read the verdict. The same can’t be said for the members of the jury, several of whom were seen crying when it was all over. Everybody cites one of the jurors, a former WP reporter, who talked to the media and described how the jury carefully examined the evidence in the 10 days of deliberations. In the end, it seems the jurors simply didn’t buy the argument that Libby’s numerous misstatements were caused by his faulty memory. “I don’t think it was an easy decision for any of us,” said another juror quoted in the NYT. The former Post staffer also said jurors often asked, “What are we doing with this guy here?” saying many felt Libby had been the “fall guy.”
The administration now has to decide whether President Bush will pardon Libby, a hard decision that “probably will dog the White House through the 2008 presidential campaing and into the last days of the administration,” says the LAT on Page One. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on President Bush to pledge that he won’t pardon Libby. (Slate’s John Dickerson says that a pardon might signal that Libby did indeed take the fall for the White House.)
The Post’s Al Kamen is running a contest and asking readers to send in their guess of when President Bush will pardon Libby. The 10 people closest to the actual date will get a T-shirt.
The LAT talks to legal experts who said they weren’t surprised by the verdict because the case against Libby was hard to defend against the huge amount of evidence. The NYT says the prosecution presented a case with “black-and-white clarity” and was methodical while the defense tried to paint the case “in lavish shades of gray” and appeal to the jury’s emotions.
The WSJ quotes some lawyers who say the big lesson of the trial is that those under investigation should invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege and just shut up.
The WP and LAT off-lead yesterday’s series of attacks across Iraq that killed at least 110 Shiite pilgrims (USAT says at least 130) who were preparing for a religious celebration. The LAT notes up high that this seems to be another chapter in the strategy by Sunni insurgents to “rekindle sectarian warfare” by trying to incite Shiites to retaliate. The NYT notes suicide bombers lured pilgrims by handing out food, which is customary during the religious festival. Also yesterday, the U.S. military announced that nine American soldiers were killed Monday.
The LAT and WP front the testimony by six of the fired U.S. attorneys, who told Congress how they felt pressured and threatened by some Republican lawmakers and at least one Justice Department official. They also testified that they never received any complaints about their job performance before they were dismissed. David Iglesias of New Mexico said he “felt sick” after he received calls from two New Mexico lawmakers inquiring about a corruption case involving Demcorats. John McKay of Seattle testified he got a call from the chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who asked about the status of an investigation. (Slate’s Emily Bazelon says “the firings look terrible” but the hearings were “a thrill to watch.”)
In an op-ed piece in USAT Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez says the controversy around the fired prosecutors is “an overblown personnel matter.” Gonzalez says the prosecutors were asked to resign for “reasons related to policy, priorities, and management” and it had nothing to do with political retaliation. “They simply lost my confidence,” he writes.
In the editorial pages … Most of the papers publish editorials on the Libby verdict, and they’re largely left with a feeling of dissatisfaction. The WP says the conviction “should send a message to this and future administrations about the dangers of attempting to block official investigations.” But, just like the NYT, the Post also worries about the long-term consequence for the news media as a result of the prosecutor’s insistence on getting testimony from journalists. “The potential damage from that decision remains of real concern,” says the NYT, emphasizing that it was at least “a breath of fresh air to see someone in the administration … finally called to account.” The LAT echoes the other papers when it says many who wanted to get questions answered about Iraq will be disappointed. “It may be less than satisfying to see the law finally catch up to the administration in the form of perjury convictions. … For now, though, it will have to do.” The WSJ calls on Bush to pardon Libby right away and characterizes the conviction as “a travesty of justice.”