NOBODY knows what is going to happen in the perjury trial of Scooter Libby, the one-time chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Every day, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's team presents evidence that Libby lied to a grand jury. Every day, Libby's defense effectively pokes holes in the prosecution's case.
Most news reports this week have highlighted the prosecution's successes. But the prosecutor must prove his case "beyond a reasonable doubt" - and the Libby team has had evident success in casting all kinds of doubt on the testimony of Fitzgerald's witnesses. So things are far muddier in Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom than the reporters covering the trial are letting on.
This is easily seen if you read the observations of the most obsessive followers of the Libby case. They come in two varieties - left-wingers who'd be happy to see Libby face a firing squad and righties who'd now be happy to see Fitzgerald face a firing squad.
Web sites on both sides of the ideological divide provide moment-by-moment transcripts of the courtroom proceedings, and other sites give moment-by-moment analysis.
Reading these sites every day has a vertigo-inducing effect that probably resembles the suffering of those who have bipolar disorder.
Yesterday, the anti-Libby partisans were thrilled with the first bit of testimony by an FBI agent who interviewed Libby in 2003. "I'm reading and I'm not quite believing it," said one poster at the Fire Dog Lake site, "but yes, it does seem like Scooter is toast." Then Libby's lawyers rose to interview the agent - and the pro-Libby folks instantly rose from the depths of despair to the unshakable sense that their man would be acquitted.
It would be impossible in fewer than a thousand words to explain how Libby's lawyers made FBI interviewer Deborah Bond look bad, but they did.
And since she was the final witness of the week in the Libby case, one poster at the Just One Minute site crowed: "The jury leaves with the taste and smell of burned Feeb."
"Feeb" is a pretty crude way to refer to an FBI agent just because she's testifying against the guy you're rooting for. But it's become the habit of those consumed with this case's details to depersonalize their "enemies" - meaning not only Libby or Fitzgerald, but also their witnesses, fellow lawyers and the like.
Maybe that's because the case against Scooter Libby is so astoundingly petty that arguing over it is like arguing over scraps.
Having begun his investigation with the possibility of bringing down the Bush administration due to the possible commission of a national-security felony, Fitzgerald has wound up trying to argue that the incomprehensible notes and Swiss-cheese recollections of reporters are indisputable facts.
And are those notes the source material for articles that led to the publication of a covert CIA officer's name - the possible felony that began this whole thing in the first place?
Well, no. Nothing Libby said to anyone led to the publication of Valerie Plame's name in Robert Novak's column. On this, everyone is agreed.
To secure his conviction, Fitzgerald only wants the jury to agree to the following - that Libby, who acknowledges having learned a fact on a Thursday, is lying when he claims he'd already forgotten it four days later.
You'd think that would be a pretty easy case to make. But it turns out it's not - and that, even on Fitzgerald's own extremely narrow terms, he may not be able to establish these plain facts beyond a reasonable doubt.
The question is why Fitzgerald is trying to make the case at all. The longer it goes on, the more astoundingly petty this prosecution seems. How any jury member is going to be able to make even minimal sense of what he's hearing is a mystery only slightly larger than the disgrace that this case ever got to this point in the first place.
Now, Scooter Libby is an old friend of mine, and I think he is a great public servant and a patriot, and I would dearly love to see him acquitted. But I'm entirely agnostic on the specific charges brought by Fitzgerald - I don't know whether Libby told the truth to the grand jury.
But neither, in point of fact, does Fitzgerald. And yet he has brought the unlimited resources of the federal government to bear on a single man simply to justify his own pointless and lengthy investigation.
I have no doubt that Fitzgerald gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror and sees a righteous man.
But alas, his eyes deceive him, and his mirror shows nothing but Narcissus.