Friday, May 26, 2006; A19
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald released the first excerpts of grand jury testimony by Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Wednesday night. The material concerns what Libby knew about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, when he came to know it, and how he came to know it.
The court filing shed new light on interactions between Libby and Cheney regarding Plame in 2003.
Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, had written a July 2003 column accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat. Wilson's comments were based on a trip he had taken to Niger, at the request of the CIA, in February 2002 to determine whether Iraq was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons material there. He concluded there was little evidence to support that belief. Wilson's column provoked concern and outrage in the White House, leading Cheney to order Libby to disclose to a journalist portions of a secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, according to a court filing by Fitzgerald.
Libby was indicted in October 2005 on charges of lying to investigators and a grand jury, but not with leaking Plame's name. Cheney has not been accused of ordering Libby to leak her name.
-- R. Jeffrey Smith
The first excerpt is drawn from Libby's testimony on March 5, 2004, and concerns White House discussions of the Wilson column.
Q And was it a discussion of -- that was -- was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis ?
A Yes, sir.
And it was discussed on multiple occasions each day in fact?
And during that time did the Vice President indicate that he was upset that this article was out there which falsely, in his view, attacked his own credibility?
And do you recall what it is that the Vice President said?
I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he had or hadn't done, what the facts were or not. He was very keen on that and said it repeatedly. Let's get everything out.
Additional excerpts are drawn from Libby's testimony on March 24, 2004, and partly concern Cheney's interest in why the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger, and the possibility that the trip was a "junket."
I think he [Cheney], at times, had suspicions about, you know, is that why [Wilson] . . . was selected for this mission?
And what makes you say that?
You know, I think he made comments about it in connection with, well, his -- you know, his wife works there [at the CIA]. It wasn't a full sentence, I don't think, but that's the sort of notion I took from it.
An implication that if his wife hadn't worked there, he wouldn't have been the one sent to do the job?
Something like that. Yes, sir.
The excerpts address how Libby heard about the Wilson-Plame connection, which Fitzgerald has alleged Libby discussed with two journalists on June 23, July 8 and July 12. The timing is relevant because the bulk of the administration's campaign to rebut Wilson's column unfolded in the week after columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's identity on July 6, 2003. Libby has said he recalls learning about the Plame-Wilson connection on July 10 from Tim Russert of NBC, a claim Russert denies. Libby also has testified that Cheney mentioned it to him after July 10.
I think I recall him [Cheney] musing about that [possibility of Wilson being sent on a junket by his wife].
Okay. Do you recall when it was that he mused about that?
I think it was after the Wilson column [on July 6].
Okay, and obviously --
I don't mean the Wilson column, I'm sorry, I misspoke. I think it was after the Novak column [July 14].
Okay. And can you tell us why it would be that the Vice President read the Novak column and had questions -- some of which apparently seem to be answered by the Novak column -- [and] would go back and pull out an original July 6th op-ed piece and write on that?
[Cheney] often kept these columns for a while and keeps columns and will think on them. . . .
As you sit here today, are you telling us that [Cheney's] . . . concerns about Amb. Wilson, his concern that [Wilson's] . . . working pro bono, his concerns that [Wilson's] . . . an ambassador being sent to answer a single question, his concern that his wife may have sent him on a junket, would not have occurred between July 6th and July 12th . . . but instead would have occurred much later?
The only part about the wife, sir, I think might not have occurred in that week. The rest of it, I think, could have occurred in that week because, you know, it's all there.