Media Figures May Be Reluctant Defense Witnesses in Libby Case
Monday, February 12, 2007
Defense Exhibit 1972, a tape-recorded interview from the "Imus in the Morning" radio show, is another of those revealing moments in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
"So . . . what happened?" radio host Don Imus asks NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell about her confusing reporting on an undercover CIA officer. "Were you drunk?"
"I obviously screwed up," Mitchell responds in the exchange, which Libby's defense hopes to play for the jury in coming days. "I guess I was drunk," she jokes.
Just when you thought it was impossible for more harm to come to the national news media's reputation, the defense in the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff is about to present its case.
Starting today, when Libby's attorneys try to show that he did not intentionally lie about his role in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, they will rely heavily on a string of journalists as witnesses. In several ways, those witnesses will be asked to raise doubts about the testimony and accuracy of other reporters, and some may end up tarnishing themselves or their sources.
Libby, 56, is charged with lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters about Plame in the summer of 2003, during what prosecutors allege was a White House campaign to discredit her husband, outspoken war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV. Days after Wilson accused the administration of twisting intelligence he gathered on a CIA-sponsored mission as it defended the invasion of Iraq, Plame's classified CIA role was revealed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak. Libby, who has pleaded not guilty, is not charged with the leak itself.
Now the reporters Libby spoke to -- and some he did not -- are unhappily embroiled in the trial as witnesses for both sides.
This past week, a pillar of broadcast news -- Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief for NBC News -- was heard chortling on the air on Oct. 28, 2005, about the possibility that Bush administration officials would be indicted that day. That interview, also with Imus, helped the defense suggest that Russert, a star witness for the prosecution, may have held a grudge against Libby.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page was depicted as carrying water for the White House, insisting in print that it had crucial intelligence supporting the war that did not come from the White House. But Libby has testified that he urged then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz to leak self-serving parts of an intelligence report to the Journal because Wolfowitz had better connections there. That admission helped the prosecution suggest Libby was part of a White House campaign to discredit Wilson.
In the next several days, three reporters at The Washington Post, a senior New York Times editor, a Times Washington bureau reporter and a Newsweek magazine reporter are expected to take the stand.
Defense attorneys are keen to ask New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson about the accuracy of former Times reporter Judith Miller, a prosecution witness who said Libby told her about Plame in June 2003. They want Abramson to rebut Miller's testimony that she urged Abramson, then the Times's Washington bureau chief, to have the paper pursue the story about Wilson's wife working at the CIA. Abramson has been quoted as saying that Miller never made such a suggestion.
But the questioning could get into the gritty business of whether Abramson considered Miller to be accurate and impartial in her work. In the summer of 2003, the time of the events critical to the case, editors told Miller that, because of flaws in previous stories about whether Saddam Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction, she could not write stories alone on intelligence regarding Iraq.