WASHINGTON – A federal judge all but resolved the protracted legal fight over classified information in the CIA leak case Monday, helping ensure the dispute would not derail former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury and obstruction trial.
Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding a CIA operative. He says he had more pressing issues on his mind and wants to discuss classified intelligence about terrorist threats and foreign nuclear programs to bolster that argument.
Prosecutors had accused Libby of demanding so much sensitive information that the government could not safely release it — leading to a dismissal — but U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton appears to have resolved that dispute.
Walton, who rankled Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald last month by ruling that Libby must be allowed to discuss intelligence on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, terrorism and other issues at trial, accepted Fitzgerald's proposal to limit the details Libby and his attorneys can discuss.
The details of those limitations are sealed but, because it was Fitzgerald's proposal, it's unlikely he would come back to court later this month and argue that the limitations did not go far enough to protect government secrecy.
Neither Fitzgerald's office not Libby's attorneys would comment Monday.
The ruling helps keep the trial on track for next month. That could still be delayed, however, if Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush aide Karl Rove claim they cannot testify because of separation-of-powers issues.
While the case hinges on whether Libby knowingly lied about his conversation regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame, testimony could offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the Bush administration handled intelligence and criticism in its march to war.
Plame believes the administration leaked her name to reporters as retribution for her husband's criticism of prewar intelligence. Nobody has been charged with the leak.