By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006
The federal judge presiding over the pending trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby threatened yesterday to impose a gag order barring statements or disclosures to the news media by Libby's defense team or by the special prosecutor investigating alleged wrongdoing by the former White House official.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walston did not explain exactly what provoked his pique, but he wrote in his order that "on several occasions information has been distributed to the press by counsel, which has included not only public statements, but also the dissemination of material that had not been filed on the public docket."
He complained that the parties to the case did not heed an earlier warning that he would not tolerate "this case being tried in the media," and he said such disclosures could impair the court's ability "to ensure that both sides receive a fair trial." Walton gave both sides eight days to state any objections before he imposes the gag order.
He made the threat a week after special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who is investigating leaks to the media by administration officials about a CIA operative, wrote in a court filing that President Bush and Vice President Cheney had authorized Libby to release information to the media from a classified intelligence report.
In a reply brief filed late Wednesday evening, Libby's defense team noted that this disclosure set "off an avalanche of media interest." Acting in response to questions, one of Libby's lawyers had made a brief statement to the media that Libby's White House-authorized release of information about Iraq was disconnected from any release of the name of the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, contrary to what Fitzgerald said in his court papers.
Plame's employment by the CIA was classified. She is married to former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was dispatched by the CIA to look into reports that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear weapons materials in Africa. Wilson disputed the reports and wrote publicly that the administration had twisted intelligence to support its invasion of Iraq. Fitzgerald has alleged that officials leaked Plame's name in an effort to undermine Wilson by making it appear as if his assignment for the CIA stemmed from nepotism.
In their reply brief, which was described in late editions of Thursday's Washington Post, Libby's lawyers said he did not assert in grand jury testimony that Bush or Cheney instructed him to disclose Plame's name to reporters as part of an effort to rebut Wilson's criticisms.
Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted last year on charges of lying to the FBI and a grand jury when he said he had not discussed Plame with reporters. His new court filing was the latest salvo in his battle to gain access to information held by the administration and by government investigators about Wilson's trip, and about other officials' statements to reporters regarding Wilson and Plame.
Libby has said he needs these documents partly to prepare for expected testimony at his trial by current and former senior administration officials, who Libby says were aware of Plame's employment.
Libby has said the documents will show that Plame's employment was a peripheral matter in his conversations with others, and that thus he had good reason to forget precisely what he had said to reporters about it. "He testified to the grand jury unequivocally that he did not understand Ms. Wilson's employment by the CIA to be classified information," the court filing states.
In a related development, The Post yesterday was subpoenaed by Libby's defense team to produce records related to the case that the newspaper had not turned over to Fitzgerald. Eric Lieberman, a counsel at The Post, said the newspaper would comply by providing Libby with a complete copy of a memorandum by Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward from his interview with Libby on June 27, 2003.
Woodward has said Libby spoke in the interview about the same intelligence report he discussed with other journalists. "This action does not pose legal or journalistic concerns to The Post or Mr. Woodward," Lieberman said.