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Defense Paints Libby as Busy Man With Bad Recall

Defense Paints Libby as Busy Man With Bad Recall

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 – The former right-hand man to I. Lewis Libby Jr. described his ex-boss today as a dawn-to-night workaholic, constantly on the go as Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide and, by implication, too busy to recall the details of the unmasking of a C.I. A. agent.

John Hannah, who is the vice president’s national security adviser, testified at Mr. Libby’s criminal trial that Mr. Libby held “essentially two full-time jobs,” keeping to a whirlwind schedule of meetings and briefings and monitoring several safes full of classified data.

Mr. Hannah testified as part of an effort to convince jurors that Mr. Libby was too busy to recall details of conversations and that any inconsistencies in his accounts to F.B.I. agents and grand jurors were caused by memory blur rather than an intent to deceive.

“On certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory,” said Mr. Hannah, using Mr. Libby’s nickname. On occasions “too many to count” Mr. Libby would forget details of early-morning conversations by dinnertime, Mr. Hannah testified in Federal District Court.

Mr. Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury and F.B.I. agents about when and how he learned of the identity and role of a covert C.I.A. agent whose name was later leaked to the columnist Robert Novak.

Mr. Libby’s day typically began at the vice president’s residence with a 6:30 or 7 a.m. security briefing, after which Mr. Libby would ride in Mr. Cheney’s motorcade to the White House for a constant swirl of meetings, Mr. Hannah testified.

Somehow, Mr. Libby managed to stay well enough informed to more than hold his own at meetings when “fairly contentious” issues were aired, Mr. Hannah said, even if it became necessary for his aides to “just grab him in the hall” to convey important information.

In the spring and summer of 2003, Mr. Libby was preoccupied with the military campaign in Iraq, efforts to build a new government to replace Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Iran’s meddling in Iraq, the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists and Israeli-Palestinian relations, Mr. Hannah testified under questioning by the defense lawyer John Cline.

Mr. Hannah’s portrayal of his old boss as a man with enormous responsibilities and a poor memory, at least on relatively minor matters, could be especially important, since it appears unlikely that Mr. Libby will testify.

The events in mid-2003 that led to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Mr. Libby center on an Op-Ed article in The Times by the former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV. He had been sent to Africa by the Central Intelligence Agency to investigate rumors that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.

He concluded those rumors were unreliable, and in his July 6, 2003 article, questioned the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Eight days after that article appeared, Mr. Novak disclosed that Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie, worked for the C.I.A. Administration critics asserted that her name and identity were leaked in retaliation for her husband’s harsh criticism of administration policies.

A federal investigation was begun into the leaking of Mrs. Wilson’s identity, since disclosing a C.I.A. employee’s name can be a crime under some circumstances. It has been known for months that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the White House political adviser Karl Rove were Mr. Novak’s sources, although no one was charged for revealing Mrs. Wilson’s name and status.

But prosecutors accused Mr. Libby of lying during the inquiry, telling investigators and grand jurors that he had learned about Mrs. Wilson from reporters, when in fact, prosecutors charged, he had been telling reporters about her.

In his cross-examination of Mr. Hannah today, the prosecutor, prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, sought to show that Mr. Libby tried to thwart the inquiry to protect the vice president.

Mr. Hannah conceded under Mr. Fitzgerald’s questioning that part of Mr. Libby’s job was defending the vice president’s office, to “push back” against “unfair criticism.”

And, Mr. Fitzgerald went on, if Mr. Libby decided to “give someone an hour or two” to discuss something, that was a clear indicator of the subject’s importance, was it not?

It was, Mr. Hannah replied, recalling under Mr. Fitzgerald’s questioning that he had had detailed discussions with Mr. Libby about the Wilson trip to Africa.

Earlier today, a former Washington bureau chief of The New York Times cast doubt on the testimony of a former Times reporter who had testified for the prosecution.

Jill Abramson, the former bureau chief and now a managing editor at The Times, said she did not recall the former Times reporter Judith Miller ever proposing that the newspaper investigate the Wilsons, and in particular whether Mrs. Wilson had a role in arranging the Africa trip for her husband.

“I have no recollection of such a conversation,” Ms. Abramson testified.

Ms. Abramson did recall, however, that Mr. Wilson’s July 6 article “caused a stir,” and that “in the ensuing week, we had reporters chasing that story.”

Ms. Miller has testified that Mr. Libby told her about Mr. Wilson’s wife days before Mr. Libby told a grand jury that he had learned about Mrs. Wilson from reporters. So it is crucial for the defense to undercut Ms. Miller’s credibility.

Ms. Miller left The Times in 2005, not long after spending 85 days in jail for refusing at first to testify in the inquiry. She was a controversial figure at the newspaper, in part because of her reporting on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction. Some of her colleagues found her abrasive – a point that figured in the cross-examination of Ms. Abramson.

Perhaps, a prosecutor suggested, Ms. Abramson didn’t recall the conversation with Ms. Miller because she had “tuned her out.”

“It’s possible that I occasionally tuned her out,” Ms. Abramson said.

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