By: Joe Strupp
Denis Collins, the juror in the Libby/CIA leak case who delivered a post-verdict commentary for the press, spent about a decade at The Washington Post. Today, after a night on cable TV shows, he re-appears with a massive recounting of his experience at the Huffington Post blog.
His story is billed as “INSIDE THE JURY ROOM: WHAT THE JURY THOUGHT, DAY BY DAY, WITNESS BY WITNESS, AT THE SCOOTER LIBBY TRIAL” by Denis Collins, Juror #9. It calls it “unedited” impressions, memories and facts. Other jurors’ names are changed.
The New York Times today reports that he is a registered Democrat. He recalls that he revealed when considered for the jury that he had worked with Bob Woodward for three or four years and also with the Post’s Walter Pincus, another witness at the trial. Until a year ago, Tim Russert was a neighbor and he even attended backyard barbeques at Russert’s place. But attorneys at both tables merely offered “ain’t this a small town” grins, he relates.
One of the lawyers asked him the subject of his 2005 book. “You wrote about the CIA?” Collins said yes, which along with his reporting connections amounted to the “perfect storm.” He comments: “Yet here I am,” on the CIA leak case jury.
He says that he felt he had “absolutely no chance to be selected” for the jury and may have even bet someone $1000 that he would not be.
He adds that he went to grade school with the Times’ Maureen Dowd, who allegedly had a crush on Collins’ brother. He later recommended to Bob Woodward that the Post hire her away from the old Washington Star, but he disagreed.
New York Times reporter John Tierney came to Collins’ wedding and “in a red, lounge-lizard coat with fake velvet collar, recited ‘Feelings’ into a hand held microphone.” Collins knew Mike Isikoff, now at Newsweek — and co-author of the recent book partly about the case, “Hubris” — when both were at the Post, and Isikoff once stayed with Collins in San Francisco.
Collins goes through witness by witness and offers opinions on the attorneys and the judge, and other jurors. He says most jurors considered Ari Fleischer “Slick Willie” and not believable. “I wondered if Libby’s attorneys advised him to keep out of the sun, to emphasize the ‘tireless worker for the public good’ look,” he recalls.
On Judith Miller: “The defense was so aggressive in attacking Miller’s memory, it created sympathy among the jurors.” One juror commented: “She was the most stressed-out witness, but had no motive to lie.”
More: “As celebrities go, the jury favorite seems to be NPR?s Nina Totenberg. Everyday Nina.”
He also writes about “the Runaway Juror” who was later bounced off the case: “She broke the first rule by flashing another juror a page in her notebook during court testimony. Fortunately the message, ‘Look at that eye candy in the third row!’ wasn’t top secret stuff.”
Yesterday, E&P published the first full report on Collins’ background at The Washington Post, where he covered both metro news and sports, and spent time on the copy desk, according to editors at the paper.
The longtime journalist, 57, who has also written for The Miami Herald and the San Jose Mercury New, was recalled as smart,
hardworking and energetic, although not always “coloring within the lines.”
The jury convicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief aide to Vice President Cheney, on four of five counts today, including perjury and obstruction of justice. Collins, whose identity was not known until today, came out of the courthouse and spoke to the press, saying that as a former reporter he felt this was the right thing to do.
Cable TV news commentators noted the irony of a former reporter becoming chief jury spokesman — at least today — in a trial where reporters played such a central role. Some also wondered how someone who had written a book on spying (including the CIA variety) had made it on this jury.
In the jury selection phase, before Collins name came out, he was identified as having worked with Bob Woodward at the Post and being a neighbor of NBC’s Tim Russert. Both would later testify in the case.
“Every experience I had with Denis was absolutely positive and professional, a delightful person,” recalled George Solomon, the former sports editor who retired in 2003 after 28 years at the Post. “Very flexible, willing to do
whatever it took to do the job.”
A review of Post archives finds hundreds of stories by Collins dating back to the early 1980s, with many related to sports, but others involving travel, karate, Nerfball, a profile of comedian Bob Goldthwait, and a wide array of other subjects.
Solomon said Colllins was most interested in the outdoors beat, which he took over on occasion, although he also covered baseball and football. “His greatest interest was covering hiking and camping and running rather than the standard hunting and fishing fare,” Solomon said.
Tom Wilkinson, a post assistant managing editor who has been at the paper since 1969, called Collins enthusiastic, and “not always coloring within the lines, which is okay…I remember him being a pretty good reporter, an independent guy,” Wilkinson added. “He had his own sense of what stories are, occasionally hard to reel in.”
Amazon.com lists at least two recent books by Collins, “Nora’s Army,” about a Bonus camp in 1932 Washington, D.C.; and “SPYING: The Secret History of History.”
Asked if he would want Collins on his jury, Solomon said, “There are a lot of people who worked for me I would not want to decide my fate.” But he then added, “he is a reasonable, smart and fair guy. Who else would you want on a jury?”
Later, on Larry King’s CNN show, Collins said he would write about the trial, but “I’m not sure of format or where it will be.” He added that he “never expected to be accepted to serve on the jury.” He also admitted he was not “one of the lions” on the jury.
Fox News host John Gibson expressed surprise today that the defense allowed 1) a reporter and 2) someone who has written about the CIA, to be on this particular case.