Libby Left Out Some Facts In Interviews, FBI Agent Says
Friday, February 2, 2007
One of the FBI agents who interviewed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby during the CIA leak investigation testified yesterday that the vice president's then-chief of staff did not acknowledge disclosing the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters, asserting that he was surprised when another journalist later told him about her.
FBI agent Deborah S. Bond also testified that Libby said that, while he was preparing to be interviewed by investigators in the fall of 2003, he came across a handwritten note he had made during a phone conversation with Vice President Cheney. The note made it clear that, shortly before June 12, 2003, Cheney had told Libby that Plame worked at the CIA's counterproliferation division and was married to an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.
Libby's conversation with Cheney took place nearly a month before Libby telephoned Tim Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief. According to Bond, Libby said that, during that call, Russert mentioned that "all the reporters" knew that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife worked at the CIA. Libby told the investigators that "it was as if it was the first time he heard it," Bond said.
Coming on the seventh day of testimony in Libby's perjury trial, Bond's description of the FBI's two interviews with Libby in his White House office gave jurors their first account of what the prosecution alleges were lies that Cheney's former top aide told investigators to obscure his role in spreading classified information.
The version of events Libby related to the FBI conflicts with the accounts of several government officials and journalists who have already testified at the trial. Russert is scheduled to be the prosecution's final witness early next week.
Libby is charged with lying to FBI agents and a grand jury in the investigation of the leak of Plame's name to the news media. He is not charged with the leak itself. Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald contends that the CIA officer's identity was disclosed as part of a White House campaign to discredit her husband.
In 2002, the CIA dispatched Wilson to Africa to investigate reports that Iraq had recently tried to buy material there for making nuclear weapons. In June 2003, shortly after the Iraq war began and days before his wife's identity was leaked, Wilson publicly accused President Bush of trying to justify the war by twisting the intelligence Wilson had brought home.
Libby has pleaded not guilty to all five felony counts. He and his attorneys contend that he misremembered the conversations he had with reporters about Plame amid the crush of his work on national security issues.
Yesterday, Bond told jurors that, during the FBI interviews, Libby did not mention several significant aspects of his interactions with journalists. He told investigators about a July 8, 2003, breakfast meeting with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Bond said, but did not mention another meeting with Miller two weeks earlier.
Bond said Libby also did not say that he had sought information about Plame from government officials and discussed the matter with Miller and, soon after, with Matthew Cooper, then a reporter for Time magazine.
According to Bond, Libby told her that he did not recall discussing Wilson's wife with Miller. In Cooper's case, Bond testified, Libby said he had simply told Cooper that other reporters were saying that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but that Libby did not know whether that was true.
Bond also said Libby "adamantly denied" that he had told then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame. Fleischer testified earlier this week that Libby did reveal that information.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Theodore V. Wells Jr. pressed Bond to acknowledge that Libby had said during his first FBI interview that he was very concerned that his memory was bad and that he needed to review his notes to jog it. Wells also questioned the thoroughness of the agent's notes about Libby's account of a third conversation with Miller, on July 12.
Earlier yesterday, the judge presiding over the trial expressed doubts about defense arguments that Libby was made a scapegoat by the White House in 2003 as the furor over the CIA leak grew. With the jury out of the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said that argument was undercut by evidence that then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan, at Cheney's direction, publicly denied that fall that Libby had any role in leaking information about Plame.
Walton allowed the prosecution to play small portions of videotapes of briefings from early October 2003, by McClellan, who had, by then, succeeded Fleischer as Bush's press secretary.
Libby had complained to Cheney that McClellan had, days earlier, cleared senior White House adviser Karl Rove but not Libby, according to witnesses and trial documents. Cheney then called the White House to urge McClellan to do the same for Libby, suggesting some phrases that Libby and Cheney had worked out together. According to one exhibit, Cheney scribbled on a note: "Has to happen today."
Jurors watched snippets of three McClellan briefings. In one, a few days before Libby's first FBI interview, McClellan was asked whether Libby or two other administration officials had leaked Plame's name. The videotape shows McClellan replying: "I spoke with them so I could come back and say to you, they were not involved."
Yesterday, Walton ruled that Libby's attorneys are not entitled to look at Miller's notebooks for evidence that she had spoken with sources other than Libby about Plame or Wilson.