- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

From combined dispatches

Vice President Dick Cheney’s spokeswoman testified yesterday she told I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. the identity of a CIA employee earlier than Mr. Libby has said he first learned it from a reporter.

On the third day of Mr, Libby’s trial, Cathie Martin became the first member of Mr. Cheney’s inner circle to contradict statements by Mr. Libby that led to the charges he lied to the FBI and a grand jury investigating the case.

Theodore Wells, defense attorney for Mr. Cheney’s former chief of staff, quickly sought to limit any damage from the testimony of Mr. Cheney’s former assistant for public affairs.

Questioned by Mr. Wells, Mrs. Martin acknowledged that she could not recall for sure whether she relayed the information about CIA employee Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, to Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby on June 11, 2003, or as late as July 6, 2003.

The date is important because Mr. Libby told investigators he first heard of Mrs. Plame’s job from NBC reporter Tim Russert on July 10. Mr. Libby has said that because he was preoccupied with pressing national security issues, he simply forgot he had earlier learned about her work at the CIA from government officials.

Besides Mrs. Martin, one State Department and two CIA officials testified earlier to conversations with Mr. Libby about Mrs. Plame before July 10, 2003.

A CIA witness has testified that Mrs. Plame conceived the idea for the agency to send her husband to Niger in 2002 to investigate intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein’s regime had sought uranium ore from the African nation.

President Bush cited the Iraq-Niger connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as evidence that Saddam was attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson wrote a July 6, 2003, column for the New York Times saying that the intelligence was false, and that he had told the administration of his finding.

A longtime State Department official, Mr. Wilson said that his CIA trip to Niger was in response to Mr. Cheney’s questions about the intelligence reports, and that he thought Mr. Cheney was aware of Mr. Wilson’s belief that the reports were false.

Yesterday, Mrs. Martin testified that Mr. Cheney personally wrote out statements and talking points for Mr. Libby and other aides to give to reporters, denying that the vice president was behind Mr. Wilson’s trip or ever learned Mr. Wilson’s conclusions.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Mr. Libby discussed Mrs. Plame’s job and role with reporters as part of the White House effort to discredit Mr. Wilson.

But under Mr. Wells’ cross-examination, Mrs. Martin testified she had no knowledge that Mr. Libby ever discussed Mrs. Plame’s job with any reporter. She also said Mr. Cheney ordered her to get all the facts out, but she did not think Mrs. Plame’s role was part of the story she had to tell.

“It didn’t seem appropriate or helpful for us to get that out,” Mrs. Martin testified.

Mr. Wilson’s claims, attributed to an unnamed ex-ambassador, first emerged in Nicholas D. Kristof’s New York Times column on May 6, 2003. Mrs. Martin testified that sometime after that column appeared, she called CIA spokesman Bill Harlow to sort out the genesis of the mission, and Mr. Harlow told her Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. She said she immediately went to the vice president’s office and told Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby about it. She did not recall their response.

Mrs. Martin testified that her conversation with Mr. Harlow occurred no later than July 6, when Mr. Wilson appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But she acknowledged that “it makes sense to me” she might have talked about Mrs. Plame with Mr. Harlow on June 11, 2003, when government telephone records show they talked.

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