Cheney Won't Testify In CIA Leak Case

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 7:05 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a dramatic twist, I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby on Tuesday abandoned plans to testify in his own defense and decided against calling his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, to help defend him in the CIA leak trial.

The announcement in U.S. District Court by defense attorney Theodore Wells came after several days in which Libby's attorneys had inched in that direction.

The formal reversal in their announced tactics prompted Judge Reggie Walton to advise them the decision would limit how far they could go in using memory flaws as Libby's defense to perjury and obstruction charges.

Defense attorneys put in nearly two hours of testimony Tuesday from Cheney's current national security adviser, John Hannah, about how busy Libby was in 2003 with the war in Iraq and other pressing national security issues while serving Cheney as both national security adviser and chief of staff.

Informed of Libby's decision, Walton said, ``I understood the defense was going to be that these issues were of such significance that they so overwhelmed him so it was reasonable for him to forget'' when he first learned that war critic Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA.

Libby is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his talks with reporters concerning Plame and obstructing the investigation of how her identity leaked in 2003. Libby says his memory failed him.

``Now that the defense has changed,'' Walton said, ``they cannot suggest these events overwhelmed the other'' information in his memory. But Walton said the defense could ``ask the jury to draw that inference by rhetorical questions.''

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald complained to the judge there would be little more than ``a semantic difference'' between what the defense could argue. He moved to exclude three defense witnesses who would discuss terrorist threats mentioned in the CIA briefing book for Libby and Cheney during key weeks of 2003.

``It's a bait and switch,'' Fitzgerald said. Walton agreed to admit these classified details only if Libby testified how much the topics consumed his attention and Fitzgerald could cross-examine him about them, the prosecutor argued.

``Some of these terror threats, frankly, weren't all that reliable,'' Fitzgerald said, adding that Libby would know that from experience but jurors would have no basis for judging how compelling the classified data was.

Walton decided to rule Wednesday on whether the three briefers could testify.

Libby acknowledges he learned about Plame's work at CIA from Cheney on June 12, 2003, but claims he forgot it and thought he was hearing it for the first time from NBC reporter Tim Russert on July 10. Russert testified he and Libby never discussed Plame at all.

Tuesday afternoon with the jury out of court, Wells told Walton that he had advised Cheney's lawyer during a break that the vice president's testimony would not be needed. Wells then said Libby had accepted his recommendation to rest his case this week without testimony from Libby.

In December, Wells had announced he would call Cheney. Cheney himself said in recent interviews he expected to testify. Historians say he would have been the first sitting vice president to be a witness in a criminal trial.

Libby, too, once seemed a likely witness. Pretrial documents said he would testify how much national security issues weighed on his mind.

Walton asked Libby in court Tuesday whether he was sure. Libby responded: ``Yes, sir. I will follow the advice of my counsel.''

Putting Cheney on the stand would have opened him to cross-examination about his efforts to rebut Wilson's criticism of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Wilson said his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger in 2002 debunked a report Iraq was trying to buy uranium there, but that Bush nevertheless used it in his 2003 State of the Union speech.

Earlier Tuesday, Hannah testified that Libby's workday extended from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Libby regularly moved through a raft of briefings and top-level meetings about the Iraq war, terrorist threats, nuclear programs in Pakistan and Iran and even the nation's defenses against biological attack, Hannah said.

At the time Plame's identity leaked, Hannah testified, Libby was even busier dealing with a diplomatic crisis with Turkey as well.

On cross-examination, Fitzgerald turned Libby's busy schedule against his defense.

``If he gave someone an hour or two during that week, it would be something Mr. Libby thought was important,'' Fitzgerald said, noting that Libby found time to meet with New York Times reporter Judith Miller. At a two-hour meeting, Miller testified, Libby told her Plame worked for the CIA.

Earlier, New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson testified she could not recall Miller suggesting to her that the Times look into Plame, as Miller had testified. But on cross-examination, she added she ``occasionally tuned her out.''