From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi.
Vice President Cheney is off to Tokyo and Australia as closing arguments begin in the trial of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. As NBC's Joel Seidman notes, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has presented a detailed case to support charges of perjury and obstruction of justice by presenting several witnesses whose testimony conflicts with Libby's sworn statements to FBI investigators and a grand jury. Libby's attorneys put on a truncated defense last week. The bulk of their strategy was based on discrediting Fitzgerald's witnesses during cross-examination, and neither Cheney nor Libby were called to testify. The prosecution has the burden of convincing the jurors, beyond a reasonable doubt, of Libby's guilt.
Peter Zeidenberg, a Justice Department prosecutor, will begin the summation case for the government this morning, followed by Theodore Wells for the defense, Seidman reports. As is customary in federal criminal trials, the prosecutors will have the last word; the prosecution's rebuttal will be presented by Fitzgerald. Each side will have three hours total.
Libby faces five felony charges for allegedly lying during an investigation of who leaked to reporters the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Bush Administration's pre-war intelligence. Libby is charged with: two counts of making false statements to FBI agents, two counts of perjury before a grand jury, and one count of obstructing the CIA leak investigation. Neither Libby nor anyone else is charged with the actual leak of Plame's name.
On the 2008 campaign trail, Sen. Barack Obama (D) gets feted by the Dreamworks trio tonight at the Beverly Hilton, former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) hits the air with a TV ad, and Phil Gramm goes to bat for his old Senate colleague John McCain on fiscal issues in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. And since Iraq continues to dominate the candidates' Q+A sessions on the trail, and in advance of a Democratic candidate forum in Nevada tomorrow, we've updated the frontrunners' positions on the war:
CLINTON: Voted for the 2002 war resolution and does not call it a mistake, but now says that "if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote and I certainly wouldn't have voted that way." Opposes Bush's call for a troop increase but doesn't support cutting funding to stop it. After returning from the region last month, called for capping the number of troops in Iraq at pre-surge levels, cutting funding to the Iraqis if they don't meet certain benchmarks, and increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. Continues to oppose setting a "date certain" to begin bringing troops home (though her recent statement that if Congress doesn't "end this war before January 2009, as president, I will" could be seen as setting a date certain).
EDWARDS: Voted for the 2002 war resolution and said he didn't regret the vote during his 2004 campaign, then penned a Washington Post op-ed in November 2005 saying his vote was wrong. Opposes Bush's troop increase and -- unlike Clinton and Obama -- supports cutting off the funding to pay for the increase. Calls for the immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 US troops to send the message that the Iraqi people must begin to take responsibility for their country.
GIULIANI: Supports a troop increase but admits he's not confident that the war will come to a successful conclusion. Has criticized the Administration's handling of the war, saying they should have sent more troops to stabilize the country and shouldn't have disbanded the Iraqi army. And, sounding like Clinton, agrees that knowing what people know now about the absence of WMD in Iraq, the 2002 war vote may never have happened.
MCCAIN: Voted for the 2002 resolution and says he doesn't regret his vote for it one bit because he believes Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States. Supports a troop increase but has suggested that 21,500 may not be enough. Says the Bush Administration -- specifically, Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- mismanaged the war.
OBAMA: Has consistently opposed the war and said he would have voted against the 2002 resolution had he been in the Senate at the time. At one point, said he was against a phased withdrawal, arguing that it would exacerbate the situation there. But has modified that position: Advocates capping troop levels and implementing a phased withdrawal starting in May -- with all troops coming home by spring of 2008. Blasts Bush for the troop increase but doesn't support cutting off funds to stop it.
ROMNEY: Supports a troop increase but has criticized the war, saying that the Bush Administration didn't do a good job of explaining the decision to invade Iraq and that there were intelligence failures. Yet believes US troops should stay in Iraq until the country is stable. Has criticized the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.