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Fitzgerald Previews Government's Case Against Libby

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The criminal trial against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, may still be nearly a year away, but the special counsel prosecuting the case has already provided a preview into the government's criminal case against the ex-White House official, who is accused of lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his role in the leak of a covert CIA operative.

During a recent federal court hearing, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he plans to focus on the week of July 7 to 14, 2003, in which Libby allegedly told several reporters that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA and was responsible for convincing the agency to send her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq sought 500 tons of uranium from the African country.

"I'm not going to argue it was the most important issue consuming the Bush administration," Fitzgerald told US District Court Judge Reggie Walton during a February 24 federal court hearing, a transcript of which was obtained by this reporter.

"I will argue during that week Mr. Libby was consumed with [Wilson] to an extent more than he should have been but he was and you can look at the time he spent with people," Fitzgerald added. "When talking about Mr. Wilson for the first time, he described himself as a former Hill staffer. He meets with people off premises. There were some unusual things I won't get into about that week. At the end of the day we're talking about someone who spent a lot of time during the week of July 7 to July 14 focused on the issue of Wilson and Wilson's wife."

Libby told FBI investigators and testified before a grand jury that he found out about Plame Wilson's CIA employment from reporters on July 9 or 10, 2003. But Fitzgerald said Libby discussed Plame Wilson with former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on July 7, 2003, and Fleischer testified that Libby said the information was "hush, hush" on the "QT" and was not widely known ...

Libby's defense team responded to Fitzgerald's comments, saying that Plame Wilson was a blip on Libby's radar screen and that Libby was too busy dealing with terrorism, the Iraq war and national security issues to pay any attention to her.

If Libby did not provide accurate answers to the FBI or the grand jury, his attorneys said, it's only because he was dealing with national security matters and therefore forgot about how and when he found out about Plame Wilson. He did not intentionally lie, Libby's attorneys William Jeffress and Theodore Wells said during the court hearing.

But Fitzgerald said the evidence he has collected speaks for itself and proves Libby knowingly lied about his involvement in the leak.

On July 7, 2003, Libby "had a lunch where he imparted that information in what was described as a weird situation," Fitzgerald said at the hearing. "He had a private meeting with a reporter outside the White House with this meeting. He was quoted in a very rare interview on a Saturday on the record in an interview with Time magazine, a very weird circumstance. There are a lot of markers I won't get into that show that this was a very important focus, the Wilson controversy from July 7 to 14 because it was a direct attack on the credibility of the administration, whether accurate or not, and upon the vice president and people were attacking Mr. Libby. So it was a focus."

Additionally, Fitzgerald said that during Libby's trial he will argue that because Libby tiptoed around Washington when meeting with reporters, Fleischer, and others to discuss Plame Wilson's CIA work, he must have known that her status was classified.

"We will argue that [Libby] knew or should have known it was classified and that he was being investigated for disclosing classified information," Fitzgerald told Judge Walton. "We will argue that he committed the crime of lying."

Ambassador Wilson emerged in February 2003 as a vocal critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence. He accused the White House of ignoring his March 2002 oral report to the CIA, in which he told a CIA analyst that there was no truth to intelligence reports about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger. It would later be revealed that the intelligence documents on Niger were forgeries.

Despite Wilson's findings, and warnings from the State Department and the CIA that the Niger intelligence was suspect, President Bush cited Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium in his January 2003 State of the Union address, which helped convince the public and Congress to back the war. Wilson exposed the administration's flawed Niger intelligence in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed column.

Plame Wilson's identity was unmasked by high-ranking White House officials, including Libby and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, according to several reporters who testified before the grand jury. Rove remains under investigation for his role in the leak. Wilson has charged that the leak was in retaliation for his criticism of the Bush administration.

Libby and numerous other White House officials were questioned by investigators about their role in the leak and whether they were involved in a campaign to discredit Wilson. Libby told the FBI in October and November 2003 that he first learned from NBC News correspondent Tim Russert that Plame Wilson worked at the CIA and that she was Ambassador Wilson's wife.

Russert vehemently denied Libby's account, and it has since been reported that Libby had actually been a source for at least two reporters who wrote about Plame Wilson in July 2003.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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