But the conversation did take place, according to current and former administration officials and attorneys who have remained close to the two-year-old CIA leak probe. At least a half-dozen witnesses who testified before a grand jury over the past two years said that they were at the meeting when Marc Grossman, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told Libby that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA, according to attorneys and US officials close to the two-year-old CIA leak probe.
Grossman also told Libby that Plame Wilson got the CIA to send her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger in February 2002 to check out reports that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from the African country. Wilson took the trip and reported back to the CIA in March that he found no evidence that Iraq tried to acquire uranium.
"It's not just Mr. Grossman's word against Mr. Libby's," said one former State Department official knowledgeable about the substance of the conversation between Grossman and Libby. "There were other people present at the meeting at the time when Mr. Grossman provided Mr. Libby with details about Ms. Plame's employment with the agency. There is an abundance of evidence Mr. Fitzgerald has that will prove this."
Plame Wilson was unmasked as a covert CIA operative in a July 14, 2003, column written by Robert Novak. Ambassador Wilson believes White House officials leaked his wife's name as retribution because he publicly accused the administration of "twisting" intelligence to win support for the war against Iraq.
Libby's defense attorneys said Libby did not intentionally lie about how he found out that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA. They said Libby was dealing with national security issues and other pressing matters and simply forgot about the details regarding how he found out about Plame Wilson's employment.
The meeting between Libby and Grossman is a crucial part of the government's case against Libby. It demonstrates that Libby knew about Plame Wilson a month or so before her name was published in a newspaper column and proves that Libby lied to the grand jury when he testified that he found out about Plame Wilson from reporters in July 2003.
The facts surrounding Libby's conversation with Grossman surfaced in the obstruction of justice and perjury indictment Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald secured against Libby last October.
In the indictment, Fitzgerald wrote that Grossman told Libby "on or about June 11 or 12, 2003, that, in sum and substance, Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and that State Department personnel were saying that Wilson's wife was involved in the planning of his trip."
But Libby's attorneys, for the first time Wednesday, said Libby doesn't "recall" speaking with Grossman about Plame Wilson.
"During his grand jury appearances, Mr. Libby testified that he did not recall any conversations with Mr. Grossman about Mr. Wilson's wife," says the court filing written by Libby's attorneys.
Grossman has turned out to be an important witness for the prosecution, people close to the probe said.
The former Under Secretary of State derided the campaign to discredit Wilson and was outraged that the White House retaliated against Wilson by leaking his wife's identity to reporters, people close to Grossman said.
Grossman has provided FBI investigators and Fitzgerald with detailed information about the behind-the-scenes effort by Libby and other White House officials to undercut Ambassador Wilson's credibility. Grossman testified before a grand jury that the leak of Plame Wilson's name and CIA status to reporters was an "act of revenge" against her husband's criticism of the administration's use of the uranium claims in President Bush's January 28, 2003, State of the Union address.
Grossman, now vice chairman at The Cohen Group, an international lobbying firm in Washington, DC, was traveling Thursday. His assistant said he could not be reached for comment.
Attorneys as well as current and former administration officials close to the case said Grossman was the lone dissenting unnamed official quoted in a September 28, 2003, Washington Post story who told two Post reporters that "two top White House officials" called "at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."
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