The US prosecutors in the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby case failed to stop a judge in Maryland from unsealing surveillance video surveillance that captures the president’s chief of staff first looking for Valerie Plame as an elusive spouse fugitive took a flight out of Washington DC, according to a ruling on the case published in Washington on Monday.
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Secret recordings made in February 2003 by the CIA show Libby, the chief of staff for former Vice President Dick Cheney, strolls around the parking lot of the agency’s headquarters while looking for Plame, who was revealed to be a covert agent by Bob Novak on the syndicated columnist’s syndicated newspaper column in July 2003.
The surveillance video was released by Judge Reggie Walton, the former federal judge in Baltimore who is presiding over Libby’s case. Walton ruled in June that the January 7, 2003, images were legal to unseal but he sought to retain the original court order to hide their less than flattering aspects.
The original court order allowed only covert CIA officials and their families to have access to the surveillance video and did not allow non-agents or journalists. The secret portions of the video, Walton ruled, could not be made public.
Walton wrote in his ruling that if the prosecutors continued to oppose the redaction, he would find them in contempt of court.
Libby is accused of lying to federal investigators in the wake of the Plame leak, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. He had one of the most storied careers in Washington, dating back to his days as press secretary for Republican Texas governor John Connally in the 1980s.
Libby could now ask for a new judge to redact the surveillance video, after losing in the first battle. Under US law, a judge cannot be held in contempt of court for an issue and subsequently lose a second case before a different judge. The US law enforcement powers do not apply at that level.
Michael Zeldin, Libby’s lead defence lawyer, is also an assistant special counsel at the FBI, though Libby insisted all charges should be dropped. Libby has maintained his innocence.
In his decision, Walton wrote that he retained faith in the defendant and the government.
“Libby appeared to have been ambushed by the authorities. His attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, devoted no more than a few minutes to the interrogations of Mr Libby. I am satisfied that this was a misunderstanding rather than an over-riding disfunction between authorities and an attorney,” Walton wrote.