WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 – A lawyer for I. Lewis Libby Jr. tried to portray a former New York Times reporter today as having a “fuzzy” memory of her conversations with Mr. Libby about a C.I.A. agent whose husband was a critic of the Bush administration.
The lawyer, William Jeffress Jr., brought up several occasions in which the reporter, Judith Miller, acknowledged a weak memory and seemed not entirely certain of the notes she made after meeting with Mr. Libby, once the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ms. Miller’s credibility is crucial, because her testimony contradicts the account Mr. Libby gave to a grand jury about when and how he first learned of the agent’s identity.
She has testified that Mr. Libby discussed the C.I.A. agent, Valerie Wilson, and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, in two meetings in 2003, on June 23 and July 8 of that year. Mr. Libby testified before the grand jury that he first learned of Mrs. Wilson’s identity no earlier than July 10, from reporters.
He is charged with perjury and trying to obstruct an investigation into the leak of Mrs. Wilson’s identity not long after her husband, a former diplomat, criticized the administration’s Iraq policy.
In the courtroom today, Mr. Jeffress again and again elicited replies from Ms. Miller that, “I have no recollection,” or, “I can’t be certain,” or words to that effect. He was trying to persuade a Federal Court jury that Ms. Miller’s account of her meetings with Mr. Libby in the summer of 2003 are not necessarily to be believed.
Ms. Miller’s several pages of notes about the June 23 meeting refer, among other things, to Mr. Libby’s comments about whether Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Niger to further its nuclear-weapons programs, an issue that Mr. Wilson had gone to Africa to investigate. He then wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times questioning the might of Iraq’s arsenal, and therefore the administration’s rationale for going to war.
In cross-examining Ms. Miller, Mr. Jeffress zeroed in on one of Ms. Miller’s notations about the June 23 meeting: “Wife works in bureau?”
“Is your memory fuzzy about that entry and where it came from?” he asked.
Ms. Miller replied that her memory was “fuzzy” about the question mark: whether she used it to indicate her uncertainty about Ms. Wilson’s status at some “bureau,” or whether she used it because she was puzzled that Mr. Libby would bring up such a thing.
Ms. Miller testified on Tuesday that Mr. Libby told her at the June 23 meeting that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at “the bureau,” a reference she first thought was to the Federal Bureau of Investigation but which she soon realized meant a division of the Central Intelligence Agency.
So, Mr. Jeffress said, Ms. Miller could not really be sure that she did not know about Ms. Wilson’s C.I.A. status before June 23, 2003, could she?
“I just have no recollection,” Ms. Miller said. But she insisted she was “confident” that she did not know before June 23.
At one point, Mr. Jeffress replayed a videotape, first shown on Tuesday, in which Ms. Miller comments to an interviewer that she had talked to various government officials (“senior and not-so-senior”) about Mr. Wilson’s July 6, 2003, article in The Times.
“I can’t remember with whom I had those conversations,” Ms. Miller said in reply to a question from Mr. Jeffress. When the lawyer persisted, Ms. Miller said, “I don’t remember their names. I don’t know what you want me to say beyond that.”
Later on, Ms. Miller insisted that Mr. Libby had indeed used the word “bureau” in the June 23 meeting, that it had “leaped out at her” as she was going over her notes later.
“O.K.,” Mr. Jeffress said, after more back-and-forth. “So you have a memory.”
In one exchange, Mr. Jeffress alluded to “Valerie Flame,” capitalizing on an erroneous spelling in Ms. Miller’s notes of Mrs. Wilson’s maiden name, Valerie Plame.
“Excuse me,” he said with a chuckle, “Valerie Plame.”
Ms. Miller, who left The Times in 2005, spent 85 days in jail after refusing to buckle to demands of the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, that she discuss her confidential conversations with news sources. She relented after obtaining what she has called a “personal” and unambiguous waiver from Mr. Libby.
Judge Reggie B. Walton told Ms. Miller a juror wanted to know why she had not contacted Mr. Libby earlier, rather than stay in jail. Because she was afraid of “a fishing expedition” by Mr. Fitzgerald, she answered.
“I did not want to stay in jail,” she said, explaining that she did so that people who come to her with information can “trust me, that I would protect them.”Judge Walton announced today that another of the panel of 16 jurors (12 regular members and four alternates) had been excused for an employment-related issue. “That’s unfortunate,” he said.