Jurors in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. yesterday heard audiotapes in which the former White House aide told a grand jury that 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 Mr. Libby’s recollections is at the heart of his perjury and obstruction trial in the exposing of the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee whose husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was sent to Niger by the agency to investigate reports that Iraq had sought uranium ore from the African nation.
Mr. Libby’s 2004 grand jury testimony — a total of eight hours — conflicts with testimony at his trial by a former White House press secretary, a recent vice presidential spokeswoman, a former CIA official, a former State Department undersecretary, and reporters from the New York Times and Time magazine.
All testified that Mr. Libby discussed Mrs. Plame with them. Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he did not remember Mrs. Plame coming up in any of those conversations.
Mr. Libby’s attorney — who two months ago said they were “calling the vice president” to testify — indicated this week only that Mr. Cheney was “potentially” a witness and that Mr. Libby might decide against taking the witness stand. By not testifying during his trial, Mr. Libby would avoid cross-examination from special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
In the tapes, Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he was “disturbed … upset’s a fair word, I guess” by Mr. Wilson’s July 6, 2003, column in the New York Times, which accused the Bush administration of distorting prewar intelligence about Iraq’s weapons programs.
As for Mr. Cheney, “I’m sure he was upset,” Mr. Libby added.
Mr. Libby told the grand jury that Mr. Cheney told him to leak portions of an intelligence report saying Iraq had “vigorously” tried to acquire uranium from Niger. Mr. Libby said Mr. Cheney assured him that President Bush had authorized the release of the information, which had been classified.
“The vice president instructed me to go talk to [New York Times reporter] Judith Miller to lay things out for her,” Mr. Libby said.
Mr. Cheney already had told Mr. Libby at that point that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, a fact that Mr. Fitzgerald says Mr. Libby relayed to Miss Miller. Mr. Libby says he forgot all about Mrs. Plame until days later, when Mr. Russert told him about it.
“I do not believe I discussed Mr. Wilson’s — Ambassador Wilson’s — wife in this conversation,” Mr. 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.”