US jury begins deliberations in Libby case

By Andy Sullivan

Washington - A jury began deliberating Wednesday in the perjury trial of former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby and will decide whether to convict him of obstructing an investigation tied to the Iraq war.

The jury of 12 will decide whether Dick Cheney's former chief of staff lied to investigators as they sought to determine who leaked the identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame in 2003 after her husband criticised the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.

Libby is charged with two counts of perjury, two counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.25-million in fines if found guilty.

Nobody has been charged with intentionally blowing Plame's cover. Libby's perjury trial is the only criminal case to emerge from the investigation.

Libby's attorneys say he did not lie to the FBI and a grand jury but simply could not accurately recall conversations about Plame at a time he was swamped with national security matters.

In four weeks of testimony, jurors heard government officials and journalists describe how Libby sought information on Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, then passed it along to reporters.

Libby says he first heard about Plame from Cheney in June 2003, but forgot about her until a phone conversation with NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert the following month jarred his memory.

Russert testified that Plame was not discussed in the phone call.

Libby's attorneys sought to undermine Russert and other prosecution witnesses by highlighting inconsistencies in their testimony and challenging their recollection of events.

The defence team also said Libby was set up by his White House colleagues to take the blame for Plame's outing.

Jurors did not hear from Libby or Cheney.

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