Libby describes forgetting, relearning CIA operative's identity

Tuesday, February 6th 2007, 6:43 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ On grand jury audiotapes played at his trial on Tuesday, former White House aide I. Lewis Libby said he learned about a CIA officer from Vice President Dick Cheney, forgot it, then learned it again from NBC News reporter Tim Russert a month later.

The complicated history of Libby's recollections is at the heart of his perjury and obstruction trial in exposing of the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee. She is married to war critic and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony conflicts with testimony at his trial by a former White House press secretary, a former New York Times reporter, a recent vice presidential spokeswoman, a former CIA official and a former State Department undersecretary.

All testified that Libby discussed Plame with them. Libby said in about eight hours of grand jury testimony that he did not remember Plame coming up in any of those conversations. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told jurors for weeks that Libby lied. The audiotapes will allow jurors to decide for themselves.

In them, Fitzgerald walked Libby through the Bush administration's response to Wilson's suggestion in 2003 that the government had twisted prewar intelligence about Iraq.

Libby told the grand jury he was ``disturbed ... upset's a fair word I guess'' by Wilson's July 6, 2003 attack on the administration in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

As for Cheney, ``I'm sure he was upset,'' Libby added.

To rebut Wilson's assertion, Libby said Cheney told him to leak an intelligence report saying Iraq had ``vigorously begun'' trying to acquire uranium from the African nation of Niger.

``The vice president instructed me to go talk to Judith Miller to lay things out for her,'' Libby said.

Cheney had already told Libby at that point that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, a fact that Fitzgerald says Libby relayed to Miller. Libby says he forgot all about Plame until days later, when Russert told him about it.

``I do not believe I discussed Mr. Wilson's _ Ambassador Wilson's _ wife in this conversation,'' Libby testified. ``This was a couple of days before I talked to Tim Russert and I recall being surprised by what Tim Russert told me.''

Russert is expected to testify Wednesday and will be a key witness because his recollection of that conversation is at odds with Libby's. Libby said he called Russert to complain about NBC colleague Chris Matthews and, at the end of the conversation, Russert brought up Plame.

``Did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?'' Libby recalled Russert asking.

``No, I don't know that,''' Libby said he replied.

``Yes, all the reporters know it,''' Russert responded, according to Libby's testimony.

Russert said Plame never came up in the conversation. Fitzgerald believes Libby concocted the Russert conversation to shield him from accusations that he discussed official government information. Libby said he only repeated the information he heard from Russert.

Fitzgerald, who sounded casual in his early questioning, sounded incredulous at times later in the interview.

``You have a special recollection of remembering that you had forgotten that you knew Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?'' Fitzgerald asked.

Libby said he did not remember discussing Plame with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Cheney spokeswoman Cathie Martin, CIA official Robert Grenier or State Department Undersecretary Marc Grossman.

``I tend to get between 100 and 200 pages of material a day that I'm supposed to read in a day,'' Libby said at the end of his first grand jury appearance. ``So a lot of information comes through to me and I can't possibly recall all the stuff I think is important, let alone other stuff that I don't think is as important.''

Libby came back for a second appearance and said he remembered discussing Wilson's connection to the CIA with Grossman.

``He's one of yours,'' Libby recalled telling Grossman.

``Not one of ours, one of theirs,'' Grossman said, pointing toward the CIA seat in a conference room, Libby testified.

``It's a sad state of affairs when the CIA has to get their own ambassador to go to a country to ask questions about what our own ambassador could be asking about,'' Libby recalled saying.

Libby said it was a joke and that Wilson's wife never came up.

He said he still could not recall the conversations others said they had with him about Plame.