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Inside the Scooter Libby trial

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby seemed relaxed this afternoon as he strode down the hallway on the second floor of the federal court just before his motions hearing. Libby greeted waiting reporters and then walked to a small office in the courthouse, punching in the number of a cipher lock to a room, referred to as the "skiff," where, since his indictment in October, Libby has come nearly every day to examine classified documents that could be used for his defense.

Libby's wife Harriet Grant was in court today - first time since the indictment. Libby first sat next to her in the front row, gave her a hug, then moved to the defense table.


If there was a headline to the nearly 2 1/2 hour hearing, it was Judge Reggie Walton's stern words.  Judge Walton said that the case could be sabotaged by Libby's efforts to obtain the highly classified Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs), which were provided to him during his morning intelligence briefings with the Vice President.

There was plenty of courtroom drama aside from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald exclaiming that the classified document's release could be the "third rail" for his efforts to prosecute Libby.

Always impassioned lead defense attorney, Ted Wells, infamous for his courtroom surprises, didn't fail to amuse with a small stunt. Wells argued that all one has to do is "push a button" at the CIA and all the PDBs he has requested to defend Libby would emerge. He then showed a blue document bag to the judge. Wells produced a key to the zipper-lock on the bag and offered it to Judge Walton to examine.  The judge summoned Fitzgerald and other lawyers to the bench as he accepted the invitation to unlock the back and inspect its contents. Wells, clearly satisfied, declared, what you are looking at are classified queries that Libby asked during one of his intelligence briefings with the Vice President. Wells said his defense team was given this portion of a PDB in his document dump. For a moment the hearing was pure theater.

For the next 20 minutes, both sides referred to the PDBs as "family jewels." Ted Wells argued that a key defense for his client will be that Libby -- during the time that he is accused of passing on the name of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee to reporters -- "was busy with the 'family jewels."  Wells said Libby could not recall passing on Valerie Plame's identity to reporters.

Fitzgerald argued that during the first part of July 2003 it was not the "family jewels" that consumed Libby, but protecting the White House from the damage of Ambassador Joe Wilson's Niger trip findings. Fitzgerald said: "He was consumed with it more than he should have." The special counsel said Libby told reporters, "He even wanted to be referred to as a 'Hill Staffer'," in an attibution to the Plame leak.

Stay tuned, Judge Walton promised to rule on the "family jewels" in two weeks.