Star Character Witnesses at Libby Trial

Robert Novak, left, and his attorney James Hamilton leave court after Novak testified in the Scooter Libby trial.
Robert Novak, left, and his attorney James Hamilton leave court after Novak testified in the Scooter Libby trial. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A familiar-looking man in his early 60s took the stand at the Scooter Libby trial yesterday morning. "I need to ask you to spell your last name," said defense attorney Bill Jeffress.

"W-O-O-D-W-A-R-D," the man replied.

This was not sufficient for Judge Reggie Walton. "We need your first name, too," he said.

"Oh," said the witness. "Bob. B-O-B."

Spectators laughed. Jurors ogled.

Jeffress continued this line of questioning. "What do you do for a living?"

"Assistant managing editor of The Washington Post and book author."

It was a rare moment at the federal courthouse yesterday, and not only because Washington's most famous journalist was answering questions from somebody other than Larry King. Woodward, columnist Robert Novak and a quartet of prominent journalists were called to the stand for the first day of Libby's defense.

Libby must believe himself to be in desperate legal straits to have six journalists serve as his character witnesses. And, indeed, the reporters' testimony appeared to do little to dent the prosecution's case that the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney eagerly shared CIA officer Valerie Plame's name with reporters and then said otherwise under oath. But Libby's team did establish that the defendant wasn't the only administration official dishing about Plame.

The leadoff witness, The Post's Walter Pincus, testified that then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told him about Plame's identity -- directly contradicting Fleischer's sworn testimony. Next, Woodward testified that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told him about Plame. Novak fingered top Bush strategist Karl Rove as well as Armitage. Combine that with earlier testimony that Fleischer and Libby each leaked to two other reporters, and it seems possible prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would have had an easier time finding out who in the administration didn't leak Plame's identity.

Defense lawyers, perhaps realizing that relying on reporters was a dicey proposition, sought to build up their credentials. First, Jeffress established that Pincus had shared in a Pulitzer Prize in 2002. Then he got it on the record that Woodward shared in two Pulitzers. David Sanger, who identified himself as "chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times," testified that "I've been fortunate enough to be on a few [Pulitzer-winning] teams."

"A few?" Jeffress asked.

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