WASHINGTON – A federal judge allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to play portions of White House briefing room videos Thursday at the perjury and obstruction trial of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Fitzgerald said he wanted to play lengthy videos of then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan discussing the leak of a CIA operative's identity in 2003. Libby's attorneys objected, saying the videos were not relevant to the case.
McClellan originally told reporters that President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, had nothing to do with the leak, and prosecutors say that Libby pressed McClellan to make a similar statement on his behalf. McClellan ultimately did clear Libby's name in news accounts.
Fitzgerald says the briefing room tapes show that Libby was eager to publicly conceal conversations he had with reporters about CIA official Valerie Plame. Libby was eager to save his job and spare him public embarrassment, Fitzgerald said.
He also said Libby had drawn a "line in the sand" by getting White House officials to clear him of leaking classified information.
"He has every reason to be sure he doesn't cross that line in his conversations with the FBI," Fitzgerald said.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he would not permit Fitzgerald to play the entire tape, which includes a heated question-and-answer period that McClellan had with reporters. He said Fitzgerald could play the portions in which McClellan clears Libby and says anyone who leaked classified information would be fired.
The tapes were to be played Thursday afternoon.
Fitzgerald also appeared to be planning another multimedia display that would let jurors hear Libby's grand jury testimony in court. FBI agent Deborah Bond was scheduled to be the next witness Thursday and could provide an opportunity for Fitzgerald to play the tapes.
Fitzgerald believes jurors should hear and see Libby's words for themselves. He successfully fought to allow into evidence Libby's full grand jury testimony — the sworn statements he gave prosecutors during the investigation — and Fitzgerald played a brief clip during his opening statement.
That tape would give jurors the chance to hear for themselves the testimony that Fitzgerald says is a lie and that Libby says is a product of faulty memory.
The perjury and obstruction trial hinges on whether Libby lied about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame.