By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006
The classified status of the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plame will be a key element in any trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, according to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has said that at trial he plans to show that Libby knew Plame's employment at the CIA was classified and that he lied to the grand jury when he said he had learned from NBC News's Tim Russert that Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, worked for the agency.
Libby's lawyers have said their client did not know that Plame's job at the CIA was classified, and therefore he had no reason to remember conversations about her or lie about them to the grand jury.
When Libby testified before the grand jury on March 5, 2004, he said, according to the government's indictment: "Mr. Russert said to me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife, or his wife works at the CIA? And I said, no, I don't know that. And then he [Russert] said, yeah -- yes all the reporters know it. And I said, again, I don't know that."
At that same grand jury appearance, Libby was asked about a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in which he said reporters were the source of his information that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
"I was very clear to say reporters are telling us that because in my mind I still didn't know it as a fact. I thought I was -- all I had was this information was coming in from reporters," Libby told the grand jury, according to the indictment.
The indictment said Russert never disclosed anything about Plame in his conversation with Libby. Instead, prosecutors say, Libby learned about Plame's CIA employment in June 2003 from Cheney, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and at least one senior CIA official, according to court papers.
At last week's court argument on pretrial motions, Fitzgerald said Libby had a "motive to lie" to the grand jury. By "attributing to a reporter" his information about Plame's CIA status and emphasizing that he was "passing on" scuttlebutt but "didn't know if it were true," the prosecutor said, Libby in his testimony was deliberately casting his actions as "a non-crime" in a way that "looks much more innocent than passing on what you know to be classified."
To support his case, Fitzgerald disclosed that at some time after Robert D. Novak's July 14, 2003, column identified Plame as a CIA "operative," Libby was part of a conversation with a CIA official and one other Cheney employee who is not identified in court papers. The CIA official discussed "the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees," according to a May 12 court filing by the government.
At the oral argument that same day, Fitzgerald, referring to the conversation, described the CIA official as a witness who described to Libby "and another person the damage that can be caused specifically by the outing of Ms. Wilson."
That conversation, Fitzgerald added, "goes directly to his [Libby's] state of mind as to . . . there [being] a motive to lie."
In his May 12 filing, Fitzgerald said that same conversation provides "evidence [that] directly contradicts the defense position that the defendant had no motive to lie because at the time of his [FBI] interview and [grand jury] testimony the defendant [Libby] thought that neither he nor anyone else had done anything wrong."
To help counter that contention, Libby's lawyers, in their May 12 court filing, identify former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow as a potential witness in the case, saying he was the government official who disclosed Plame's "employment status," probably in June 2003, to Cheney spokeswoman Cathie Martin, who then passed it on to Libby.
"Mr. Harlow may be called to testify about that conversation and about whether he told her that such information was secret," Libby's attorneys wrote in their filing. "Such testimony would support defense's contention that Ms. Martin did not tell Mr. Libby that Ms. Wilson's employment at the CIA was classified, which would help the defense to contest the government's argument that Mr. Libby should have known such information was classified," they wrote.