WASHINGTON – Some of the nation's best-known journalists testified Monday about news leaks in the Bush administration as attorneys for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby tried to cast the former White House aide as a scapegoat in the CIA case.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Using reporters as their first batch of witnesses, Libby's attorneys tried to show that the administration was leaking from several sources. And when Libby had the opportunity to leak himself, they said, he did not.
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testified he learned about Plame, the wife of former ambassador and prominent war critic Joseph Wilson, from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. The Post's Bob Woodward and syndicated columnist Robert Novak testified they heard it from Deputy State Department Secretary Richard Armitage.
As for Libby, both Novak and New York Times reporter David Sanger testified that they separately interviewed him and that he never discussed Plame.
"I believe you're the third Pulitzer prize winner to testify this morning," Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quipped when he began questioning Sanger.
Fitzgerald says Libby learned Plame's identity from Cheney and other officials, then discussed it with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Libby says he never revealed it to Miller and says he only told Cooper what he had heard from another reporter, NBC's Tim Russert.
Libby is not charged with the leak, but Fitzgerald says he lied because he feared prosecution and losing his job.
Defense attorneys say Libby had no reason to lie. Why, they ask, would he out Plame to Miller and not take the opportunity to do the same in interviews with Sanger and Novak?
Attorneys have suggested to jurors that Libby is being treated unfairly. Fleischer received immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperating with authorities and Armitage was never prosecuted.
Woodward's testimony provided Libby's attorneys a victory in making that argument. They persuaded a judge to let them play a one-minute excerpt of Woodward's taped interview with Armitage. In it, Woodward asks about a CIA fact-finding mission that Wilson says helped him debunk prewar intelligence on Iraq.
"Why would they send him?" Woodward asked.
"Because his wife's a (expletive) analyst at the agency," Armitage replied.
"It's still weird," Woodward said.
"It's perfect. That's what she does. She is a WMD analyst," Armitage said.
Defense attorneys want to show that if there was a concerted effort to out Plame, Libby wasn't part of it. They have also told jurors that members of the administration made Libby the scapegoat for top Bush adviser Karl Rove, who was a second source for Novak's column.
"I wouldn't call him a good friend. I would call him a very good source," Novak said of Rove. "I talked to him two or three times a week at that point."
Libby was not a regular source and did not contribute to the Plame story, Novak said.
"I had no help and no confirmation from Mr. Libby on that issue," Novak said.