WASHINGTON -- Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was eager to make public that the CIA, not Vice President Dick Cheney, sent a former ambassador to check on Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear material, a former agency executive said yesterday.
Robert L. Grenier, former CIA Iraq mission manager, appeared as a government witness in Libby's trial on charges of obstruction and lying. He testified he told Libby that the idea of sending former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV to Niger was the brainchild of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson , who worked in the CIA office that sent him in 2002.
A year later, the former ambassador became a prominent critic of the war, based on what he found in the African nation.
Ultimately, Grenier's testimony could help prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald establish a motive for Libby to confirm Plame Wilson's identity and employer to reporters in 2003, which Libby denies doing.
But defense lawyer William Jeffress quickly questioned how Grenier's memory improved substantially since he talked to investigators in 2003-2005.
Such attacks on memory set the stage for the defense argument that Libby did not lie to investigators about what he told reporters about Plame Wilson , but merely had his own memory lapse.
Her identity and role in Wilson's trip were leaked to columnist Robert Novak in July 2003 shortly after Wilson publicly criticized Bush for portraying Iraq as trying to purchase uranium in Niger, months after Wilson told the government it was untrue.
Libby is charged with obstructing the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak and lying to the FBI and a grand jury.
Grenier said Libby called him June 11, 2003, to ask about the Wilson mission and sounded upset that Cheney's office was being blamed for sending Wilson. One of Libby's lawyers, Theodore Wells, has said Cheney was angry that Wilson was suggesting the vice president had been behind the trip, should have gotten Wilson's report, and might have suppressed it.
Later that day, Grenier said, he told Libby "it was not only the Office of the Vice President driving the Wilson trip, but also inquiries from State and Defense."
"Mr. Libby asked if the CIA was willing to reveal that publicly," Grenier testified.
Grenier said he checked and told Libby the CIA agreed to the release.
He testified he also told Libby that Wilson's wife worked in the CIA unit that sent Wilson and "that's where the idea came from," because she knew he had contacts in Niger.
Libby told a grand jury that he believed he learned Plame Wilson's identity from NBC newsman Tim Russert on July 10, 2003.
Prosecutors say Libby learned it days earlier from a stream of government officials.
Documents for the Libby trial may be found at wid.ap.org/documents/libbytrial/index.html .