Fleischer's Testimony Contradicts Libby's Story

Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer took the stand in federal court in Washington, D.C., Monday for the prosecution of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, is accused of lying to obstruct an investigation into the leak of CIA Agent Valerie Plame's identity.

Fleischer testified that Libby told him Plame's identity over a private lunch in the White House mess hall on July 7, 2003. That contradicts Libby's account that he learned the information from reporters days later.

Fleischer quoted Libby as saying, "This is hush hush. This is on the QT. Not very many people know about this."

Fleischer told the jury, "My sense is Mr. Libby was telling me this is kind of newsy."

Their lunch conversation took place as the White House was in the thick of an effort to rebut criticism from Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had gone to Africa to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein sought uranium for nuclear weapons from the Nigerian government. When Wilson found no such evidence and the White House continued to assert otherwise, Wilson began to criticize the White House publicly.

Fleischer is the fifth government official to testify that Libby was part of a coordinated White House effort to refute Wilson's claims. Fleischer said, "I never in my wildest dreams would have thought this information (about Plame's identity) would be classified."

According to Fleischer's testimony, he told Plame's identity to reporters from Time magazine and NBC News a few days later, during a presidential trip to Africa.

Libby's lawyers have argued that the Plame/Wilson controversy was a minor issue compared to the other crises Libby had to deal with at the same time. They say if Libby made false statements to FBI agents and a grand jury months later, those statements were the result of memory lapses—not lies.

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