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Fleischer Handles Questioning in the Usual Fashion

Fleischer, trailed by superlawyer Bob Barnett, entered the courtroom at noon with a little less hair on top and a more expensive suit than he had when he departed the briefing room four years ago. In four hours on the stand, he talked his way out of several factual jams.

Jeffress seemed to have Fleischer cornered with grand jury testimony in which Fleischer appeared to say, falsely, that a confidential report on Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger for the CIA mentioned Wilson by name. But Fleischer rallied, providing the jury with not one but four explanations: (1) "I haven't read the entire document." (2) "If I read it and it doesn't include his name the context is clearly Ambassador Wilson's report." (3) "Unless it's in the blacked out area I cannot see." And (4) "It may not have his name verbatim."

Jeffress asked Fleischer if Bartlett had been talking to him when he said, aboard Air Force One, that Plame was the one who sent Wilson on the trip to Niger.

"He said it out loud," Fleischer answered.

"He was talking to you?"

"He said it out loud and I heard him," Fleischer repeated.

Why didn't Fleischer react to Bartlett's statement? "I was sitting in my chair trying to read a document."

When Jeffress expressed some skepticism on this point, Fleischer explained: "You can get interrupted by so many things at the White House."

Under the prosecutor's questioning, Fleischer delivered a damning account of Libby's actions, saying how the former aide to Vice President Cheney disclosed Plame's identity, along with an intimation that "this was kind of newsy." When Fleischer mentioned that Plame was "covert," Jeffress shouted an objection.

"Whatever her status was, that was totally irrelevant," the judge told the jury. A minute later, Fleischer repeated the allegation the judge had just disallowed.

Jeffress knew it would be a challenge to undo the damage Fleischer did to his client, particularly because, as he put it, Fleischer has "had a lot of practice" under hostile questioning.

Fleischer did not disappoint. Jeffress tried to get him to say which reporter questioned national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at a briefing. "I wouldn't know," Fleischer said. Jeffress asked why Rice was unaware of Wilson's trip even after it was reported in the press. "There was something in the air that spring," Fleischer explained.

Finally, Jeffress entered into the record a kind note Libby wrote to Fleischer on the press secretary's last day. Libby smiled as Fleischer read it. But Fleischer just stared straight ahead. "This is one of 20 to 40 letters I received on my last day in a big bound book," he said.

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