Ex-Reporter for Times Testifies for Prosecutor Who Jailed Her
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 — Judith Miller, a former reporter for The New York Times, testified Tuesday as a witness for the prosecutor who had put her in jail for 85 days, recounting details of her once-confidential interviews with I. Lewis Libby Jr.
Ms. Miller had initially refused to cooperate with the government in its investigation of Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, saying she would not violate her oath of confidentiality to Mr. Libby. But the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, with the support of the federal courts, had her jailed until she relented. She asserted that Mr. Libby had released her from her vow of confidentiality.
As she began her testimony, she was calm and soft-voiced as she faced Mr. Fitzgerald, who is still investigating her in an unrelated case, and discussed three conversations she had had in June and July of 2003 with Mr. Libby. Those conversations, in which Ms. Miller said an agitated and anxious Mr. Libby criticized the Central Intelligence Agency and informed her of the identity of an agency operative, Valerie Wilson, are a significant part of the perjury and obstruction case against him.
It was only after Mr. Fitzgerald briskly concluded his questioning, and Ms. Miller found herself facing a caustic cross-examination from one of Mr. Libby’s defense lawyers, that her composure slowly withered. Under the questioning by the lawyer, William H. Jeffress Jr., who attacked her memory and credibility, she began to sigh frequently and grow testy in her responses.
Pressed about why she failed to remember an important June meeting with Mr. Libby during her first grand jury appearance, she said with her voice rising: “Counselor, I’ve already said I didn’t remember that meeting. I just didn’t remember.”
The day ended with an extraordinary argument by lawyers for both sides, as well as a lawyer for Ms. Miller, over whether Mr. Jeffress could ask her if she had other sources she spoke to about Ms. Wilson. The question, which was left unresolved by Judge Reggie M. Walton until Wednesday, threatened to derail the trial over the very constitutional issue that saw Ms. Miller go to jail in 2005.
Judge Walton seemed disinclined to allow questions about Ms. Miller’s other sources. “I appreciate that there is an interest the media has in not having questions asked that aren’t germane to this case,” he said. But if he does allow them, and she refuses to answer, she could be held in contempt once again and a mistrial could result.
In her more than two hours on the stand, Ms. Miller became the focal point for an intense drama involving three people in the room: herself, Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Libby. As she provided the testimony that was most damaging to Mr. Libby, he sat almost motionless in his chair about 20 feet away and stared at her.
Mr. Fitzgerald first took her through her June 23, 2003, meeting with Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby, who she said was usually low key, “appeared to be agitated and frustrated.”
He was unhappy about growing public concern that President Bush had used inaccurate information in his most recent State of the Union speech, in which he said there was evidence that Saddam Hussein had recently tried to acquire uranium from Africa.
She said Mr. Libby said the C.I.A. “was beginning to backpedal from the unequivocal intelligence” it had provided before the war about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium.
He said the C.I.A. was doing so through “a perverted war of leaks” related to a fact-finding mission to Africa by Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was married to Ms. Wilson, also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.
“Did he discuss the wife?” Mr. Fitzgerald asked. “Yes,” Ms. Miller replied, adding that Mr. Libby had said Ms. Wilson worked at the agency’s division that dealt with limiting the proliferation of unconventional weapons.
Ms. Miller said Mr. Libby told her that Mr. Cheney had asked the agency in early 2002 about Iraq and African uranium, and the C.I.A. decided to send Mr. Wilson on its own without telling the vice president.
She described a second meeting with Mr. Libby at a Washington hotel that lasted two hours, as well as some telephone calls.
The main line of attack by Mr. Jeffress concerned the fact that Ms. Miller did not describe the June 23, 2003, meeting with Mr. Libby when she first appeared before a grand jury on Sept. 30, 2005, the day after she got out of jail.
He noted with a large measure of sarcasm that she had just finished testifying in detail about Mr. Libby’s comments and even his mood during the June 23 meeting. How was it possible that she forgot entirely about the same meeting before the grand jury? he asked.
Ms. Miller had said that her memory of the June 23 meeting was jogged only when she accidentally discovered a shopping bag full of notebooks under her desk in the Times newsroom. Her lawyer then informed Mr. Fitzgerald, and she described the previously forgotten meeting in a second appearance before the grand jury.
Ms. Miller is the first of a series of reporters who are lined up to dispute Mr. Libby’s account of his behavior in the investigation of who may have leaked to the press Ms. Wilson’s identity as a C.I.A. officer.
Beyond the drama of the day’s proceedings, the appearance of Ms. Miller as someone forced by the government to testify against a source emphasized how the case has changed the landscape of relations between journalists and government officials.
As the day ended in the argument over whether Ms. Miller could be questioned about other sources, Judge Walton took the unusual step of calling on Ms. Miller’s lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, to explore what questions she might be willing to answer.
Mr. Bennett confirmed that Ms. Miller had already indicated she would testify she did not recall any sources other than Mr. Libby with whom she had discussed Mr. or Mrs. Wilson.
But the defense argued that it should be allowed to ask a broader question: whether she recalled other sources with whom she had discussed the issues raised by Mr. Wilson’s July 6, 2003, Op-Ed article in The New York Times, which accused the Bush administration of twisting the intelligence that led to war. Mr. Jeffress argued that because Ms. Miller had said in a 2005 affidavit filed with the court that she had discussed those issues with multiple sources, he should be permitted to ask about them.
Mr. Fitzgerald, having once jailed her for protecting a source, now argued that she should not have to answer the question about sources.
“I don’t want to make the First Amendment argument,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, noting the contradiction of his position. Instead, he argued that questions about sources on subjects other than the Wilsons were not relevant to the charges against Mr. Libby. If they were allowed, the prosecutor said, “We’re off on an irrelevant fishing expedition.”
But Theodore V. Wells Jr., one of Mr. Libby’s lawyers, argued that Ms. Miller should be asked the questions so Mr. Libby could have an opportunity to impeach her credibility.
“This is nothing more than classic 101 impeachment,” Mr. Wells said. “I don’t think we have a First Amendment collision at this point.”
Ms. Miller left The New York Times in November 2005 after a 28-year career at the newspaper. Her reporting came under attack after articles she wrote suggested that Iraq possessed unconventional weapons, coverage that helped the Bush administration build its case for invading Iraq but that turned out to be wrong.
Mr. Fitzgerald is investigating Ms. Miller in an unrelated case involving Islamic charities. The government has contended that calls from reporters tipped off the charities to impending federal raids and asset seizures.