Journalists Testify That Libby Never Mentioned CIA Officer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Six journalists testified yesterday that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, never mentioned an undercover CIA officer to them -- and some said they learned about her identity from other administration sources.
As Libby's attorneys opened their defense in his perjury trial, they argued for a second time that Libby need not take the stand for them to present elements of a defense that his misstatements to investigators were the product of a faulty memory. An irritated U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he felt misled and believed Libby would testify.
Testifying as the first defense witness, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus revealed that then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was the first person to tell him, on July 12, 2003, that war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV was married to undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame. His remarks contradicted Fleischer's testimony as a prosecution witness last month.
Pincus was the first of six reporters to say they spoke to Libby, or were called by him, during a crucial period in June 2003 and early July 2003 but did not learn Plame's identity from him.
It is during this time that the prosecution says Libby was engaged in a fervent effort to discredit Wilson, who had publicly accused the White House of twisting intelligence he had gathered as it justified the invasion of Iraq. Prosecutors contend that Plame's identity and CIA post were leaked to leave the impression that Wilson was chosen for a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger because of nepotism. Plame's name was revealed in a syndicated column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.
Libby, 56, is not charged with the leak itself but with lying to investigators about conversations he had with reporters about Plame in the summer of 2003. The defense contends that Libby, who has pleaded not guilty, inaccurately remembered conversations with journalists because they were insignificant amid his pressing work on national security matters.
The journalists' testimony was designed to help Libby's defense by showing that the defendant did not mention Plame to every reporter with whom he spoke around the time of the leak and that other officials were discussing Plame at about the same time.
Bob Woodward, a best-selling author and an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, told jurors that he learned about Plame during a mid-June 2003 interview with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage for a book Woodward was researching on the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. He said he interviewed Libby later that month, and his notes indicate that Libby said nothing to him about Plame but that Woodward might have mentioned her to Libby.
Novak testified that he also learned of Plame's position at the CIA from Armitage on July 8, 2003, and confirmed the information with senior White House adviser Karl Rove, probably the next day.
In brief testimony that lasted less than 20 minutes each, reporters Glenn Kessler of the Post, David Sanger of the New York Times and Evan Thomas of Newsweek also told jurors that they spoke with Libby or were called by him during the key week before Novak disclosed Plame's identity. But none heard of Plame from Libby.
Pincus, who covers national security and intelligence issues for The Post, told jurors that he was in the office, talking to a source one Saturday in July about a story he was preparing about Wilson's mission to Niger.
"The person I was calling suddenly swerved off and said . . . 'Don't you know, in effect, his wife works at the CIA, is an analyst on weapons of mass destruction?' " Pincus testified. He told the court that the source said "that's why people aren't paying attention" to Wilson's conclusions that reports of Iraq trying to obtain nuclear material in Niger were unfounded -- because he had been sent on the mission by his wife.