- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, in tapes played yesterday in the Valerie Plame leak trial, pressed Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff on whether Mr. Cheney had directed him to tell reporters that Mrs. Plame worked for the CIA.

The audiotapes showed that Mr. Fitzgerald, just a month into his leak investigation, was asking pointed questions about the highest levels of government.

The first 90 minutes of audiotapes, recorded during the 2003 grand jury testimony of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., were played for jurors in Mr. Libby’s perjury and obstruction trial. More than six hours of additional tapes were to be played today.

Mr. Fitzgerald began his questioning by determining what he already knew to be true — that Mr. Libby was not the source of syndicated columnist Robert Novak’s story revealing that Mrs. Plame, whose husband editorially attacked President Bush about the run-up to the Iraq war, worked for the CIA.

Almost immediately after that, however, Mr. Fitzgerald steered the discussion toward Mr. Cheney and how his office responded to the growing criticism from former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who asserted he led a fact-finding mission to Niger that refuted some prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Mr. Libby said Mr. Cheney mentioned in an offhand way in June of 2003 that Mrs. Plame worked for the CIA. Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether Mr. Cheney was upset by the apparent “nepotism” in Mrs. Plame possibly having arranged the trip. Mr. Libby said he did not recall.

Mr. Fitzgerald also asked whether the vice president expected Mr. Libby to share that with reporters, specifically Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. Mr. Libby said he did not. Mr. Fitzgerald asked four times and in four different ways whether Mr. Libby could be absolutely sure he did not disclose the information to Mr. Pincus. The reporter never revealed Mrs. Plame’s identity.

“The vice president obviously thought it was important enough to share with you or interesting enough to color the background, correct?” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

“Yes,” Mr. Libby replied.

Mr. Fitzgerald never brought a leak charge. Mr. Libby, who is accused of lying about his conversations with reporters regarding Mrs. Plame, is the only person charged in the case.

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