Cooper, Miller Contradict Libby on CIA Leak
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In this country, Lewis Libby is on trial for what he allegedly said to reporters. Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff is charged with lying during a CIA leak investigation involving a high-profile critic of the Bush administration.
Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG: The underbelly of White House politics and of journalism are both on display at the Libby trial. Yesterday, reporter Matthew Cooper testified about how White House aides teamed up to discredit Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who in the early summer of 2003 publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Cooper, then White House reporter for "Time" magazine, described how on July 6th Wilson made his charges in print and on TV. Within days, the White House said that the president had erroneously included 16 words in the State of the Union speech justifying the war. That story dominated the news that week, and Cooper testified that on July 11th the president's top political aide, Karl Rove, told him not to, quote, "get too far out on Wilson," that a number of things were going to be coming out about Wilson that would cast him in a different light.
Cooper said that Rove told him Wilson had not been sent on a fact-finding trip at the behest of the vice president, as Wilson had said. That, in fact, the former ambassador had been sent by his wife, who, quote, "works on WMD at the agency," meaning the CIA. The next day, Cooper testified the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, confirmed that off the record, telling him, yeah, I've heard that too.
The testimony plays into the Libby defense storyline that it was Rove who was the primary mover in seeking to discredit Wilson, and Rove who blabbed to reporters about a CIA operative's identity. But at the same time, Libby's defense lawyers were unable to shake Cooper's account of his conversation with Libby, an account that showed the vice president's staff anxious to discredit the Wilson story. Indeed, reporter Cooper described a frantic July 12th in which he and his family were invited swimming at a fancy Washington area country club where cell phones were not permitted. And Cooper kept going to the parking lot to check his cell and his Blackberry in hopes that the vice president's office would deliver a response before the magazine's final deadline.
In the end, the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, reached Cooper at home, where the reporter - sprawled across his bed - took notes on a laptop for a total of some 20 minutes as Libby read him a statement from the vice president on the record, then spoke to him on background - meaning the information could not be attributed to Libby - and off the record - meaning that the material could only be used as confirmation.
Cooper is the seventh prosecution witness to contradict Libby and the second reporter to testify under subpoena; the first being former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who served 85 days in jail before finally agreeing to testify about her contacts with Libby.
While Cooper readily admitted to sometimes incomprehensible abbreviations in his note taking, he was unflappable in his testimony. Miller, however, sometimes grew testy as Libby's lawyer, Bill Jeffers, challenged her recollections of the three discussions she said she had with Libby about Ambassador Wilson's CIA wife. Two of those conversations took place, she said, before the date that Libby told the grand jury he knew about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity. Defense lawyers succeeded in showing Miller's memory to be spotty and her recollections sometimes confused. But they did not suggest any motive she would have to lie and implicate a man she says she went to jail to protect.
Today, the prosecution is expected to put Agent Bond on the witness stand. Not James Bond, but Deborah Bond, an FBI special agent who worked on the leak investigation and was there when defendant Libby allegedly gave false testimony about his role in the leak of Mrs. Wilson's identity.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: To find out what bloggers are saying at the Libby trial, go to npr.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.