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Judge Reggie Walton warned the defense that Libby would have to take the stand if he wanted to try t

Judge Reggie Walton warned the defense that Libby would have to take the stand if he wanted to try to persuade the jury his own memory was flawed.

Former Cheney Staffer Testifies in CIA Leak Trial

By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 25, 2007; 1:46 PM

 

Vice President Cheney's former public affairs director testified this morning that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby directed her to ask the CIA which journalists were working on stories about a CIA-sponsored trip to Africa, then personally telephoned at least one of them in an attempt to influence the broadcast.

Cathie Martin's testimony, on the third morning of Libby's perjury trial, again made clear that Libby was deeply involved in the effort to gather information about former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who went to the African nation of Niger at the CIA's request to determine whether Iraq was seeking nuclear material there. Wilson later publicly accused the administration of twisting his conclusions to justify the invasion.

Martin's testimony also showed how deeply Cheney himself was enmeshed in the effort in the early summer of 2003 to deflect blame from his office about Wilson's trip, which found no basis for President Bush's claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger for its nuclear weapons program.

Martin, the first prosecution witness who still works at the White House, said the vice president dictated talking points to her that he wanted used to distance his office from the CIA mission and discredit Wilson, husband of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. She said that Cheney dictated those talking points to her when she accompanied him to a meeting on Capitol Hill the week of July 7, 2003, shortly after Wilson published an op-ed piece criticizing the administration's justification for the Iraq war.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury about how Plame's name was leaked to the media during this critical time in the first few months after the war. He has pleaded not guilty, contending he forgot about conversations he had with journalists amid the crush of his duties. He is not charged with the leak itself.

According to Martin, the vice president's talking points defended the administration's use of intelligence concerning Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Her handwritten notes, displayed to the jury, show that Cheney told her to say that, months after Wilson's trip, "the considerd judgment of the intel community was that SH [Saddam Hussein] had indeed undertaken a vigorous effort to acquire uranium from Africa."

He also told her that, although Wilson was convinced Niger had not provided any uranium to Iraq: "in fact they did in 1980s."

Martin's notes show that the vice president also told her to tell the press: ""Not clear who authorized his travel. He did not travel at my request. Don't know him. . . . [Wilson] Never saw the doche was allegedly trying to verify."

She portrayed both Libby and Cheney as concerned that reporters were not telephoning their office directly to get their side of the story about Wilson and the criticism he was leveling against the administration. She said they directed her and her staff to begin monitoring television reports concerning the Niger trip, as well as doing their usual canvas of all printed articles about the vice president's office.

At one point, on a date she could not specify, Martin said that Libby told her to telephone her public affairs counterpart at the CIA, William Harlow, to find out exactly which reporters were preparing additional stories. It was her second call to Harlow, following one she had placed at the direction of the White House's National Security Council.

This time, she said, Harlow was "a little less friendly and a little more reluctant," but nevertheless told her that NBC's Andrea Mitchell and CBS's David Martin had recently spoken to the CIA for such stories.

She said that Cheney decided that Libby, not Martin, should call the two reporters. Soon afterward, Martin testified, "I remember going in with Scooter and him calling one of the reporters. I'm not sure which one." She said she did not stay throughout their conversation, partly because "I was aggravated Scooter was calling the reporters and I wasn't."

Martin said that after her first conversation with Harlow, she walked into Cheney's office while Libby was there and told them the CIA public affairs director had told her that the former ambassador who had made the trip "was Joe Wilson . . . and his wife works for the CIA."

The prosecution alleges that Libby sought and spread information about Plame for weeks before Libby claims he learned her identity and that he later concocted a false story for investigators to conceal what he had been doing.

Libby's attorneys contend that their client had had little interest in Plame and that, in recounting events months later, misremembered what had taken place.

This morning, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told the judge he was concerned that Libby's defense team was trying to improperly introduce elements of its "bad memory" defense by questioning each witness about details no reasonable person could remember -- possibly because Libby may not take the stand in his own defense.

Judge Reggie Walton warned the defense that Libby would have to take the stand if he wanted to try to persuade the jury his own memory was flawed.

Fitzgerald had been calling former high-level administration officials as witnesses to establish a chronology, beginning early in June 2003 in which Libby had conversations with top government officials to learn about Wilson and Plame.

Earlier this morning, defense attorney John Cline continued to try to chip away at the credibility of a CIA official, Craig Schmall, who testified Wednesday that he and Libby had discussed Wilson and Plame weeks before Libby says he learned of Plame.

Schmall, who briefed Libby on intelligence matters, testified that handwritten notes he took from the June 14, 2003, session indicated that Libby had been upset about the former ambassador's trip and had mentioned "Joe Wilson" and "Valerie Wilson," Plame's married name.

In his cross-examination, Cline pressed one of the defense's central themes: that the government officials on whom the prosecution is relying in the early parts of its case have shaky memories themselves.

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