WASHINGTON — Three prominent journalists testified Monday that Bush administration officials volunteered leaks about a CIA operative, as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's attorneys sought to suggest he was not responsible for exposing her.
The jury in Libby's perjury trial heard a 66-second snippet of one of the deep background interviews given to Washington Post editor Bob Woodward for use in one of his books. They also saw a parade of Pulitzer-prize winning journalists discuss who did and did not leak the information that set off a scandal and ultimately brought Libby to trial.
Woodward, who never wrote about Plame, and columnist Robert Novak, who first identified her in print, testified that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage first told them in the summer of 2003 that the wife of prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA.
Another Post reporter, Walter Pincus, testified that then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer "suddenly swerved off" topic during an interview to tell him of her employment.
This contradicted a point in Fleischer's testimony last week.
A major government witness, Fleischer testified Libby told him about Plame — earlier than Libby has told investigators he thought he first learned about her from NBC reporter Tim Russert.
On cross-examination, Fleischer also testified that he did not recall telling Pincus about Plame. The reporter's testimony Monday was the most direct hit the defense made on the prosecution's evidence that Libby lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about his talks with reporters about Plame and obstructed an investigation into how her name leaked.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is not charged with the actual leak.
The defense did show Libby had numerous opportunities to leak Plame's identity to reporters and did not. But none of Monday's testimony went directly to the precise charges that he lied about his conversations with three other reporters about her.
The day's highlight was the tape of Woodward's June 13, 2003, interview with Armitage about how Bush decided to go to war. Armitage's name was never supposed to be connected publicly to what he said. The scandal prompted him to release Woodward from his pledge of confidentiality, which freed Woodward to share the tape with lawyers in the case.
Armitage has said he revealed the name accidentally, off-the-cuff, and didn't realize that Plame's employment was classified information.
With Armitage's frequent profanities deleted, the jurors heard him tell Woodward no less than four times where she worked.
Woodward asked about Wilson's 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa for the CIA that the ex-ambassador 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.
Later Woodward asked if she was the WMD chief at CIA. Armitage said she wasn't but was in a position there to suggest that her husband had contacts in Africa.
Finally, Armitage said: "His wife is at the agency and is a WMD analyst. How about that (expletive)."
Novak described trying to get an interview with Armitage in 2001 and being told the deputy secretary was "not too busy. He just didn't want to talk to me." Novak said he was rebuffed again after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then in the last week of June 2003, Armitage's office called to set up an interview. "I had not pressed my request for one in two years," Novak said. Once he asked about the Wilson trip, Armitage said "it was suggested by his wife, Valerie, who is employed in the counterproliferation division at CIA," Novak testified.
Novak testified he got confirmation from White House political adviser Karl Rove, who replied to him: "Oh, you've heard that, too."
Contributing: Matt Apuzzo