Libby Grand Jury Tapes Released
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
This scratchy audio tape captures a powerful White House aide before a grand jury.
Unidentified Man #1: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give in the case now in hearing will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
LEWIS LIBBY: I do.
INSKEEP: He was at the time an aide to Vice President Cheney. In tapes released last night he is asked to state a name that is now famous far beyond Washington.
LIBBY: I, period. Lewis: L-E-W-I-S. Libby: L-I-B-B-Y.
Unidentified Man #2: And do you have a nickname.
LIBBY: I do.
Man #2: Okay and that is?
Man #2: Okay.
INSKEEP: Lewis Scooter Libby is accused of perjury and obstruction of justice.
MONTAGNE: The charges came after an investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Some of Libby's taped testimony related to his conversations with reporters, including one who remains on the witness stand.
Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG: Cross examination continues today of the prosecution's last witness, NBC's Tim Russert. Three of the five counts in the Libby indictment are hinged to the prosecution's allegation that Libby lied when he told the grand jury and the FBI that he thought he was learning about Mrs. Wilson's identity for the first time when he heard it from Russert in a phone conversation on July 10th, 2003.
That was four days after Ambassador Wilson had published an op-ed piece in The New York Times, accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, and in particular, ignoring the results of a fact- finding trip that Wilson had been sent on by the CIA. Two reporters and five White House State Department and CIA officials said they discussed Mrs. Wilson with Libby in the days before and after the Wilson op-ed on July 6th, but Libby has insisted he did not discuss Wilson's wife at all until he heard about her from Russert.
His March, 2004 grand jury testimony was played for the jury this week and the tapes released last night. As Libby tells it, he called Russert to complain about the network's coverage, but Russert switched gears.
LIBBY: And then he said, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken back by it. And I said, no I don't know that. And I said, no I don't know that intentionally, because I didn't want him to take anything I was saying as in any way confirming what he had said, because at that point in time I did not recall that I had ever known it.
TOTENBERG: Russert flatly contradicted that account at the trial yesterday.
PATRICK FITZGERALD: Did you give him information on Wilson's wife?
INSKEEP: No, that would have been impossible since I didn't know about her until several days later.
He said he first learned Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA when he read it in Robert Novak's July 14th column. His reaction, he said, was that this was a very big deal. Indeed, so big that he and colleagues at NBC spent days trying to decide whether to put on the air a CIA operative's name.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald took just nine minutes to question Russert. Defense lawyer Ted Wells, despite a relentless effort, was unable to shake Russert's story, so he moved on to attacking Russert's own memory, noting that the NBC Washington Bureau chief had apologized four years ago after denying that he had called a critic for the Buffalo News and then remembering later that he in fact had made the call.
Libby's lawyers have indicated this week that they may not call the vice president's former chief of staff to testify after all. They initially said they would, and Judge Reggie Walton has said he will not allow a faulty memory defense to be argued to the jury if the defendant does not take the stand. The defense has now asked the judge to reconsider that ruling.
Either way, testifying or not is a high-risk proposition for the defendant. If he does, he gets into the trial tank with a soft-spoken piranha of a prosecutor. If he does not testify, then the jury is left with his less-than- auspicious two sessions before the grand jury in March of 2004.
The thrust of the prosecutor's questioning during those appearances was the period leading up to July 6th, during which there were reports of an unnamed ambassador's fact-finding trip, and the period right after July 6th, the date of Wilson's op-ed. Libby doggedly insisted that in the days afterwards he did not discuss Mrs. Wilson with the vice president or anyone else and that he'd forgotten that the vice president told him about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity three weeks earlier. Only a note found in his file later reminded him of that conversation, Libby said.
MONTAGNE: State Department official, Mark Grossman; the vice president's press secretary, Cathie Martin, and President Bush's one-time press secretary, Ari Fleischer.
FITZGERALD: Again, if Marc Grossman had told you in the past that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, your testimony is you had forgotten that, as of the time you had spoke to Tim Russert on July 10th or 11th. Is that correct?
LIBBY: Correct, sir.
FITZGERALD: And it's your testimony that you sent - that the note shows you had a conversation with Vice President Cheney had told Wilson's wife worked at the Function Office of Counter-Proliferation, and you had forgotten as of the time of the July 10th/11th conversation.
LIBBY: Correct, sir.
FITZGERALD: And, as you sit here today, if Cathie Martin had discussed with prior to July 10th that Wilson's wife had worked at the CIA, your testimony is that you had forgotten that fact by the time you spoke to Tim Russert on July 10th. Correct?
LIBBY: My testimony is I don't remember Cathie doing that. And I was surprised on July 10th.
FITZGERALD: And it's your testimony that if you had discussed Wilson's wife without with Ari Fleischer over lunch that Monday, July 7th, that you did not recall it at the time that you spoke to Tim Russert on July 10th or 11th.
LIBBY: My recollection is that I was surprised when Tim Russert told me this fact, and told me that all the reporters knew that.
TOTENBERG: In the days after July 6th, prosecutor Fitzgerald pointed out, the vice president had a clipping of Wilson's op-ed under the glass of his desktop. It was underlined and had certain questions written on it by the vice president. Have they, meaning the CIA, done this sort of thing before: send an ambassador to answer a question? Or did his wife send him on a junket?
FITZGERALD: Do you recall the vice president indicating, or asking you, or anyone in your presence whether or Ambassador Wilson's wife had arranged to have him sent on a junket?
LIBBY: I think I recall him - I don't recall him asking me that question. But I think I recall him musing about that.
FITZGERALD: And do you recall when it was that he mused about that?
LIBBY: I think it was after the Novak column.
FITZGERALD: And can you tell us why that it would be that the vice president read the Novak column and had questions, some of which apparently seemed to be answered by the Novak column, would go back and pull out an original July 6th op-ed piece and part of that?
LIBBY: He often kept these columns for a while, and keeps columns and will think on them. And I think that he might have pulled out the column to think about the problem and written on it. But I don't know.
TOTENBERG: In the eight hours of questioning, it is clear that prosecutor Fitzgerald is groping at the question that is the elephant in the room: did Vice President Cheney tell Libby to leak Mrs. Wilson's identity. Libby never even hints that Cheney might have done that, rather he says once there was an investigation, Cheney indicated it would be unwise to talk about it further. When Libby came to him to say he would be absent for an FBI interview, Cheney responded by holding up his hand and saying, We shouldn't talk about the details.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: Excerpts of Libby testimony are at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.