WASHINGTON – New details about Judith Miller's (search) decision to cooperate in the CIA leak probe raised questions Sunday about whether Vice President Dick Cheney's (search) chief of staff and his defense lawyer tried to keep the New York Times reporter from testifying and tried to steer what she would say under oath.
The dispute centers on year-ago conversations that the lawyer Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (search) had with one of Miller's lawyers and on a letter from Libby to Miller last month regarding their talks in the summer of 2003 that touched on covert CIA officer Valerie Plame (search).
In urging her to cooperate with prosecutors, Libby wrote Miller while she was still in jail in September, "I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all. ... The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."
One of Miller's lawyers, Robert Bennett, was asked Sunday whether he thought Libby's letter was an attempt to steer her prospective testimony.
"I wouldn't say the answer to that is yes, but it was very troubling," Bennett said on ABC's "This Week."
"Our reaction when we got that letter, both Judy's and mine, is that was a very stupid thing to put in a letter because it just complicated the situation," Bennett said.
"It was a very foolish thing to put in a letter, as evidenced by the fact that you're highlighting it here," Bennett said. "It was a close call and she was troubled by it; no question about it."
In a first-person account in The New York Times, Miller said that in her recent grand jury testimony, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (search) asked her "whether I thought Mr. Libby had tried to shape my testimony."
Miller said she told Fitzgerald that Libby's letter could be perceived as an effort by Libby "to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity." But she added that her notes of the conversations "suggested that we had discussed her job" at the CIA and not her name.
Miller wrote Valerie Plame's name in the same notebook she used when taking notes of her Libby interviews in 2003, but the reporter said she did not think she had gotten the name from Libby. She said she could not recall from whom she got the name.
Regarding Libby's lawyer, the Times reported that over a year ago defense attorney Joseph Tate passed along to one of Miller's lawyers, Floyd Abrams, information about Libby's grand jury testimony -- that the White House aide had not told Miller the name or undercover status of Plame.
According to the Times, Miller told the newspaper that Abrams gave her the following description of a conversation Abrams had with Tate: "He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn't give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, 'Don't go there,' or, 'We don't want you there."'
Abrams told the newspaper, "On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one."
In an e-mail message to the Times on Friday, Tate called Miller's interpretation "outrageous." "I never once suggested that she should not testify," Tate wrote. "It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary."
Tate added, "'Don't go there' or 'We don't want you there' is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested."