WASHINGTON – A federal judge outlined how much classified evidence former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby must have access to in the CIA leak case Wednesday, leaving defense attorneys and prosecutors to debate how to black out or summarize it before trial in January.
The fight over classified materials is a key issue leading up to the trial. Prosecutors say Libby is trying to get the case dismissed by demanding so much sensitive information that the government has no choice but to refuse.
Libby is accused of lying to investigators about what he told reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame. He wants to use some of the nation's most sensitive information — the president's daily terrorism briefings — to bolster his claim that he had important things on his mind and simply forgot details about the conversations.
Nearly all of U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton's ruling was sealed Wednesday, so it's not clear what records he said must be made available. The more documents Walton admits, the better it is for Libby.
That opinion on what documents must be available marked the first of two stages in the classified information fight. The next stage, deciding how to redact the documents to protect national security but still provide Libby a fair trial, is already under way.
Walton gave Libby an early victory this week when he told Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he was proposing too many redactions.
Fitzgerald has spent three years investigating whether the Bush administration revealed Plame's job to reporters. Nobody was charged with the leak itself.
Though the story of the leak is convoluted and the fight over classified information is arcane, Libby's trial hinges on a simple question: whether he lied to investigators or just didn't remember his conversations correctly.
Portions of Walton's opinion likely will become public next month. He ordered national security agencies to review the opinion and report back to him on what can be released by Dec. 1.