|I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. is on trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. (CHRIS GREENBERG/BLOOMBERG NEWS)|
Libby said he forgot, relearned agent's ID
Said Cheney, then Russert told him about CIA officer
WASHINGTON -- On grand jury audiotapes played at his trial yesterday, former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. said he learned about a CIA officer from Vice President Dick Cheney, forgot it, then learned it again from NBC News reporter Tim Russert a month later.
The complicated history of Libby's recollections is at the heart of his perjury and obstruction trial in the disclosure of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. She is married to war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Libby's eight hours of grand jury testimony in 2004 conflicts with testimony at his trial by a former White House press secretary, a former
All testified that Libby discussed Plame Wilson with them. Libby said in grand jury testimony that he did not remember Plame Wilson coming up in any of those conversations. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told jurors for weeks that Libby lied. The audiotapes will allow jurors to decide for themselves.
In them, Fitzgerald walked Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff, through the Bush administration's response to Wilson's suggestion in 2003 that the government had twisted prewar intelligence about Iraq.
Libby told the grand jury he was "disturbed . . . upset's a fair word I guess" by Wilson's July 6, 2003 attack on the administration in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
As for Cheney, "I'm sure he was upset," Libby added.
To rebut Wilson's assertions, Libby said Cheney told to him to leak an intelligence report saying Iraq had "vigorously begun" trying to acquire uranium from the African nation of Niger.
"The vice president instructed me to go talk to Judith Miller to lay things out for her," Libby said.
Cheney had already told Libby at this point that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, a fact that Fitzgerald says Libby relayed to Miller. Libby says he forgot all about Plame Wilson until days later, when Russert told him about it.
"I do not believe I discussed Mr. Wilson's . . . wife in this conversation," Libby testified. "This was a couple of days before I talked to Tim Russert and I recall being surprised by what Tim Russert told me."
Russert is expected to testify today and will be a key witness. Libby said he called Russert to complain about NBC colleague Chris Matthews and, at the end of the conversation, Russert brought up Plame Wilson.
"Did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?" Libby recalled Russert asking.
"No, I don't know that,"' Libby said he replied.
"Yes, all the reporters know it,"' Russert responded, according to Libby's testimony.
Russert said Plame Wilson never came up in the conversation. Fitzgerald said he believes Libby concocted the Russert conversation to shield himself from accusations that he discussed official government information. Libby said he only repeated the information he heard from Russert.
Fitzgerald, who sounded casual in his early questioning, sounded incredulous at times later in the interview.
"You have a special recollection of remembering that you had forgotten that you knew Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?" Fitzgerald asked.
Libby said he did not remember discussing Plame Wilson with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Cheney spokeswoman Cathie Martin, CIA official Robert Grenier, or State Department Undersecretary Marc Grossman.
"I tend to get between 100 and 200 pages of material a day that I'm supposed to read in a day," Libby said at the end of his first grand jury appearance.