Posted in: CIA Leak Case
Photo by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
People around here know me. They know I've never been entirely comfortable with the shouts of "Fitz!" as a community cheer in our comment section. My belief is we should not wait for the courts to do the work of politics: it's not their purpose. Moreover, looking for a hero on a white horse makes spectators of us all, when instead I've always been intensely focused on inspiring people to become active, to take their own power back, so together we can change the direction of the country in a sustainable way.
But there's no way to have seen live, in person, the day of closing statements without coming out of the room thinking, "Fitz!". . . whether in awe, impressed neutrality or in abject horror and foreboding, depending on your view of the case.
Before I dig into my shrink's eye view of what happened in the courtroom during closing statements, let me refer you quickly to two excellent pieces on which this post builds: this one by emptywheel and this other by Sidney Blumenthal, who also watched it all go down sitting beside me and Jane and Christy.
The day began with the buzz of anticipation: since the trial began, I haven't seen the courtroom so crowded. The federal marshalls at the courthouse, who have to deal with the crowds, seemed to me a little fatalistic, not to say annoyed, by all the early morning hubbub. I don't blame them.
Once court came to order, it was clear Judge Walton, who still hasn't quite overcome his nagging cold, was all business. He was clearly intent on getting all the closing arguments done in one day, only reluctantly granting both sides an additional fifteen minutes as a supplement to their original three hours to address a matter of the case I didn't catch in my notes. It really didn't matter the immediate precipitant: both sides used their extra fifteen minutes to do just as they wanted, which is not to say both sides deployed the extra time wisely.
As emptywheel described, Peter Zeidenberg was up first for the government. They saved Fitz to bat cleanup at the end of the day, playing to his particular strength and comfort in speaking extemporaneously and in rebuttal. Since you don't know exactly what the other side will argue in closing, preparation for rebuttal involves not so much the methodical presentation of your key points and overarching story of the case, but rather requires a kind of adaptive fluidity, based on a deep and thorough understanding of all the elements of the case. Heh. They picked the right guy.
Zeidenberg is with the Public Integrity division of Justice, and he looks every bit the government attorney. He's not flashy. He's not presumptious or preening. He is, however, clear, competent and concise, and his presentation of the core argument of the government's case was well done (side note: the government's argument was much better supported by its visuals, especially the recurring wheel of spokes and arrows depicting the outing of Valerie Plame, with Libby in the middle. The defense went bullet point crazy, jamming too much content into the visuals, and should have read this before assembling its slides).
Perhaps because Zeidenberg lacks the star power or charisma of a Fitz, he was able to get under Wells' skin quite effectively, throwing the defense off its game and off its use of time. Wells felt the need to answer that pissant Zeidenberg and ended up losing time and focus, never to recover.
Wells got up and, as described elswhere, spent the first twenty minutes of his opening trying to rehabilitate his own credibility with the jury after Zeidenberg had pointed out the great big gaps in the defense case based on what had been promised during opening statements (Rove! Rove! Scapegoat!). Wells ran over his scheduled hour and ate up the additional fifteen minutes granted by the judge first thing in the morning, and you could see Jeffress was not happy. I noted early on Jeffress often has a kind of impish jocularity with a William H. Macy face. All that was gone. Wells made a clumsy joke about taking Jeffress' time in front of the jury, prompting Jeffress dutifully to fake a laugh. Eeep!
This is probably as good a place as any to note that, of the three big attorneys in the case – Fitzgerald, Wells and Jeffress – Fiztgerald was the funniest, at least in front of the jury. I don't mean that I found him to be funniest, though in fact I did. I mean the jury got the most laughs from him, with his snarky asides and notes of incredulous irony. I'm simply making a courtroom observation here, and as a presenter myself, I know how important humor is when attempting to speak persuasively in front of an audience. Thought I should mention it.
Jeffress got his revenge, though. He had been allotted one hour for his portion of the defense's closing arguments: he took an hour and a quarter. Wells was positively fuming.
As the one hour mark approached during Jeffress' argument, Ted Wells moved his chair a bit away from the defense table, his body poised to spring unencumbered from his repose to take his place back at center stage. . . and there he waited, energy coiled, tight, immoble. Co-counsel Cline glanced sidelong at the clock at the back of the courtroom. Junior counsel attorneys dotted about the defense table expectantly eyed Wells, fully aware of his smoldering ire, maybe familiar with his erupting volcano passion from personal experience. But there Ted sat. . . and sat. . . and sat. Jeffress finally seemed to be winding to his close, and Ted half ascended from his chair, only to settle back again: false start. Once Jeffress had matched Wells on his extra fifteen minutes with an extra quarter hour of his own, he closed his argument and sat back down. Oy.
Wells had less than an hour to wind up, and he was already behind, racing through his powerpoint slides, skipping over some, explaining repeatedly to the jury, "I don't have time for this now, but. . ." and assigning them "homework" to review by way of specific exhibits during jury deliberations.
Thoughout the day so far, the jury had been respectfully attentive, often taking notes, though predictably they sagged a little just after lunch. Every audience does: it happens at seminars in the corporate world, too. Par for the course, it's true, but the Wells v. Jeffress show clearly wasn't helping matters, because their closing statements, in my view, suffered for their distractions.
So far through the day, Wells had performed as I had expected, as the angry, passionate, human fog machine, insinuating and deflecting his way through evidence, repeating over and over, as if to make it somehow sensible, that only an "innnocent man" would try to clear his name by asking for an exonerating statement from the White House press secretary, in the same way Rove had been publicly "cleared." Weird. I hadn't even been surprised by his falling off message following Zeidenberg's needling, given his palpably tumescent pride. But the net result, as he rushed through his presentation, gave the appearance of distraction and disorganization, at least to my trained professional presenter's eye.
Jeffress, however, was similarly less polished than I had expected him to be, based on his previous work in the trial. Easily, in my view, Jeffress had been the more likable and capable trial presence and cross examiner for the defense, and though I thought he had done a good job with his closing argument, particularly on the substance regarding Cooper, he nevertheless seemed less polished or organized than I had expected.
Wells, the reprise, was a blurry mess of repetitive rhetoric and hastily considered slides. I got bored. I found myself trying to stay awake, replaying songs from my Ipod, note for note, in my head, just to stay alert. Chris Cornell. Led Zeppelin. Celia Cruz (I know: don't say it). As time was running out for Big Ted, I picked up a bit in anticipation, and then he did it.
I don't know what to say about it that has not already been said elsewhere. I can only confirm that it came across as contrived, bizarre, abrupt, as if he found himself at the very end of his time, reminded himself he had to do the crying shtick, and threw it out there almost as an afterthought, half-assed, an unexpected choking as if with overwhelming emotion. Veteran Wells watchers in the media room were not surprised by the gimmick, though they reportedly saw it as poorly played. In the courtroom, had we not all been on our best behavior, I would not have been surprised to see many of us on the benches, and even a few jurors, do one of those cartoon character double takes, where your head snaps around in circles before landing in some incredulous WTF?!! posture.
"Madness! Madness! Madness!"
When Pat Fitzgerald got up, thundering those words in mock outrage, he grabbed all the energy floating about the courtroom like static electricity, and held it to himself, never to surrender it, save during a brief, late sidebar we'll get to in a minute. This is not a reflection of my personal experience: this is my observation of what happened all around me.
I don't quite know how to explain it, other than to say Pat shocked people. His demeanor throughout the trial had been fairly direct, occasionaly subtly snarky or self deprecating, but he had not once raised his voice. . . until that moment. It jarred people. It commanded attention. Fitzgerald became a one man spontaneous passion machine from that point on. Yes, there were moments when his voice modulated, but his intensity never wavered. His command of the details of exhibits, including exhibit numbers, was unmatched by any other attorney in the case: he rattled them off like the names of his friends.
All about me, right from the outset of Pat's closing argument, I saw people begin to look at each other. Furtive, sidelong looks popped out all over. There I sat just behind the defense table, and I watched the lawyers sag and share occasional "oh shit" looks. Wells had his forehead resting on his hand, anchored on the table, remaining virtually immoble throughout. Junior defense attorneys, unconsciously mirroring his tone, slumped a bit in their seats the way my fifth grade basketball team used to do during a serious ass whupping early in the game with three quarters left to play. Just like my old basketball team, defense attorneys snuck looks at the clock (when will it be over!?). Libby's brother, who could pass almost for his doppleganger, put his arm around Scooter's wife. Fitz laid out a long, proper drubbing, and the jury, most of all, hung on every word and breath.
I can remember at whiles looking sidelong at Jane or Sidney, and they at me, especially when Fitz so clearly put Cheney's actions up for all to see. Whoa. We had not expected Fitz to go that far. No words passed among us, but we all had that, "Shit, he's really going for it" look in our eyes. We had all expected Fitzgerald to be the headline maker of the day, but he exceeded even our expectations, for all the fire and damning content he laid out.
As well as Marcy kept up with Fitz's rapid fire pace in her live blogging notes, the notes don't – they can't – capture fully what it was like to be there, to hear it and see it and see everyone else hearing and seeing it. . . especially the defense team. This was no Fred Thompson television lawyer fakery. This was the real deal, immediate, authentic and vibrant, frankly unlike anything I've ever seen in any film or stage play. Tonight I'm seeing Richard III at the Shakespeare Theater in DC. I'll let you know how it compares.
On Fitz went, from one point to another, until Jeffress finally interrupted (see the video link here) as Fitz eviscerated the argument that Plame was "not important" to Libby or the vice president by arguing that they were well aware that the potential outing of a covert operative could get others killed. The relevant Walter Pincus and Mike Allen article was safely snug in Libby's files.
Sometimes Fitz's voice seemed to quaver with righteous fury, other times he mocked himself, as in the time he went shuffling through his exhibit book and said to the jury something like, "This is where I pretend to look organized, shuffling through my papers, and you pretend to believe I actually know what I'm doing." This got a giggle, not big laughs, but he was not playing for laughs: he was just being genuine and a bit authentic. The jury was with him every step of the way, from all I could see.
Rhetorically, Fitzgerald closed deftly and effectively, turning some of Wells' pleadings on their head, but once he was done, and the jury was dismissed for the day, everyone in the courtroom, from what I could tell, knew they'd just seen something, at the very least, impressive. That is to say, it was impossible to have seen Fitzgerald's presentation and not have formed an impression, either of dread or dismay, as the defense team seemed to do, or wonder and awe, as we partisans seemed to do, or simply out of a sense of "gee whiz, something really happened," as many of the media newshounds seemed to do.
At the outset of the case, I wrote about some signature personalities in the courtroom: Fitzgerald, Walton and Wells. Tuesday's dramatics did not so much involve Walton but they did add Jeffress to the list. The title of that post was "Who's Your Daddy?" The proof of who may have been the most effective attorneys in the case won't come until the verdicts are in, and I won't speculate on what verdicts the jury will deliver, or when. As a scientist of human behavior, I'm highly circumspect about ever making any predictions about specific future behaviors under specific conditions. It's far easier to predict group behaviors and probabilities given repeated exposure to known stimuli, based on probabilities, but narrow things down to specific individuals and circumstances, and all bets are off. Juries are unpredictable.
What's more, no human observing human behavior is ever a blank, neutral slate, uninfluenced by being human, and I don't pretend, even from my professional vantage point, to be anything like a blank, neutral slate. To pretend thus is to be chock full of shit (establishment, "neutral" media people, take note!). I am a partisan. I do have strong opinions about the case. I am influenced in my perceptions by the reactions of those around me in a crowded room. Being part of a crowd can give you some insight into what's happening in the crowd around you if you pay attention, and if you can be circumspect enough to know the way your own biases or idiosyncratic reactions can color your own perceptions.
The verdicts will be the final arbiter of this trial's winners and losers, but based purely on being there, feeling it, soaking it all in and watching everyone around me, including close inspection of the defense team, the day of closing arguments belonged to one man, and one man alone.
You know the name.
Return to: Fitz.