Court Dubious on Libby's Document Request

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 6, 2006

A federal judge dealt a setback to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's defense in the CIA leak case yesterday, telling the former vice presidential aide's attorneys that he is likely to deny their request for a vast trove of government documents.

At a hearing, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton did not formally deny Libby's request for all records related to a 2002 trip by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV to Niger. But he said the material is not directly relevant to the case and could only distract the jury.

"I'm just not going to let this case turn into a judicial resolution of the legitimacy of the war or the accuracy of the president's State of the Union address," Walton said.

Walton's reference was to the "16 words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, in which he cited British intelligence reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger for use in developing nuclear weapons.

Wilson, a former diplomat in Niger, was sent to the African nation on a fact-finding trip by the CIA in 2002. After no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, he charged publicly that he had returned from Niger with evidence contradicting the Bush administration's belief that Iraq had sought to buy uranium there but that he was ignored.

Libby is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators during Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's probe of an alleged effort by the White House to disclose the identity of Wilson's wife, undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, to discredit Wilson's claims.

In pretrial motions, Libby's attorneys have tried to widen the scope of the trial, to show why, in their view, he had no motive to lie or cover up his actions.

In an April 12 motion, one of the lawyers, Theodore V. Wells Jr., said he needed the documents to help establish that Wilson had misstated the results of the Niger trip, and that the true purpose of Libby's contacts with the media was to correct those statements, not to unmask Plame.

"I've got a tough haul in front of this jury, and I need paper," Wells told the judge yesterday. But Walton said he did not "buy in on the proposition."

"You want to try the legitimacy of us going to war," the judge told Wells. "I just don't intend to have this case become a forum for debating whether Wilson is right or the administration is right."

The hearing also revealed other elements of the defense strategy.

Wells signaled that he would mount an attack on the idea that the White House could have been the first to disclose Plame's status as a CIA official, saying that he would "call at least five witnesses who will say under oath that Wilson told them about his wife."

Wells also took aim at Marc Grossman, a former undersecretary of state who, according to the indictment against Libby, recalled discussing Plame's CIA job with Libby in June 2003.

Wells said that he needed documents to cast doubt on the accuracy of any testimony by Grossman, whom he identified as a longtime friend and traveling partner of Wilson's.

Walton seemed skeptical. "If Wilson is a habitual liar" about his wife's CIA status, the judge asked, "how does that bear on whether your client . . . allegedly lied?"

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