Cheney Official Testifies at CIA Leak Trial

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Vice President Cheney's spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, testified at the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. She said she told him the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson earlier than Libby says a reporter gave him that information. Wilson is the wife of Joseph Wilson, who found that Iraq had not tried to buy uranium from Niger, despite the president's statement that it had.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

A former public affairs officer for vice president Dick Cheney testified today at the perjury trial of Lewis Scooter Libby. She gave a rare glimpse as to how the White House mobilized to counter criticism about faulty Iraq war intelligence. Libby is accused of lying to obstruct an investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has this report from the courthouse.

ARI SHAPIRO: Cathie Martin was the vice president's spokeswoman in 2003. As she put it to the jury, during June and July of that year, Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Scooter Libby, were eager to refute criticism coming from former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Ambassador Wilson went to Africa, looking for evidence that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction. When he found no such evidence and the president continued to make that claim, Wilson went public and accused the White House of distorting intelligence. Martin told the jury that his claims, quote, "went to the credibility of the president."

According to Martin's testimony, Libby instructed her to get on the case. Martin recalled asking her CIA counterpart who is this guy. It keeps getting reported we sent him to Africa. They're not taking my word for it that we didn't.

The CIA spokesman told Martin his name is Joe Wilson. He was a charge d'affaires in Baghdad and his wife works here at the CIA. Martin passed the information to Libby. She is the fourth government witness to have reported telling Libby that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Libby claims he learned the information from reporters days later.

The vice president's PR offensive continued from there, with Cheney asking Martin's staff to keep close track of the story. Martin sent talking points to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denying that the vice president's office had anything to do with the Niger trip.

Later that week, Cheney gave Martin more talking points that went even further. A piece of paper projected on the courtroom walls showed Martin's handwritten notes from her conversation with Cheney. They included - it's not clear who authorize the travel and I don't know Ambassador Wilson.

Reporters had stopped calling Martin about the story, but the vice president remained upset about it. So she called her CIA contact again and asked for the names of reporters investigating the issue. She got two - Andrea Mitchell at NBC and David Martin of CBS.

Cheney decided that Libby would call the reporters to give the vice president's point of view into the stories. He and Martin went into the vice president's anti-room and Libby placed the first call. Martin said she didn't hang around to hear the conversations. She had lots of work to do and, quote, "I was aggravated that Scooter was calling reporters and I wasn't."

The effect of the testimony was to portray a vice president's office that was consumed with the Wilson leak. So much so that the jury might have a hard time believing Libby could have forgotten knowing that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. But the first three government witnesses all had memory problems that became apparent under defense cross-examination. And that may make it easier for the jury to believe the defense's argument that Libby had memory problems as well.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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