Ex-Aide Says Cheney Led Rebuttal Effort

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 26, 2007; Page A03

Vice President Cheney personally orchestrated his office's 2003 efforts to rebut allegations that the administration used flawed intelligence to justify the war in Iraq and discredit a critic who Cheney believed was making him look foolish, according to testimony and evidence yesterday in the criminal trial of his former chief of staff.

Cheney dictated talking points for a White House briefing in the midst of the controversy that summer, his former press aide, Cathie Martin, testified, stressing that the CIA never told Cheney that a CIA-sponsored mission had found no real evidence that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa.

Aboard Air Force Two, on a trip back from the launch of a warship in Norfolk, Cheney instructed his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, about responding to a Time magazine reporter who questioned how the faulty intelligence on Iraq had become one of the Bush administration's central arguments for going to war.

In the dramatic replay of events that summer that unfolded yesterday in Libby's federal court trial, Cheney was portrayed as a general on a political battlefield -- enmeshed in tactics, but also deputizing his chief of staff to handle the dirty job of persuading journalists that the war critic was all wrong.

Previously described in court filings and by the news media, Cheney's role was brought to life yesterday by Martin's account. She is the first witness in the case who worked closely with Cheney and Libby as they tried to refute former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to determine whether Iraq had sought uranium for a weapons program.

Her testimony was buttressed by previously unreleased documents provided as evidence yesterday, including handwritten notes and margin scribblings Cheney's staffers hastily jotted at their boss's instruction.

Lea Anne McBride, Cheney's current spokeswoman, said yesterday that the vice president's office could not comment on the case or the evidence introduced in the trial.

Libby, 56, is charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury about how the identity of Wilson's wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, was leaked to reporters days after Wilson went public with his allegations that the administration had twisted his findings to justify the war in Iraq. Libby has pleaded not guilty, contending that he misspoke and that he forgot about conversations he had with journalists amid the crush of his duties. He is not charged with the leak itself.

Martin recalled giving Cheney and Libby information from CIA spokesman William Harlow that Wilson was the person sent to Niger "and his wife works for the CIA." Martin is the fourth witness from the administration to bolster the prosecution's claim that Libby had to be lying when he said he learned about Wilson's wife weeks later from NBC's Tim Russert.

Also yesterday, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told the judge he was concerned that Libby's defense team was trying to improperly introduce elements of its "bad memory" defense without putting Libby on the stand, questioning each witness about details that no reasonable person could remember.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton warned the defense that Libby would have to take the stand if he wanted to try to convince the jury that his own memory was flawed.

Martin's testimony also illustrated how doggedly Cheney insisted that the administration had significant evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction -- even after the White House had backed off that claim and admitted it was not solid enough for the president to have cited it in his 2003 State of the Union address.

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