More testimony is due Thursday at the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. On Wednesday, Matthew Cooper joined fellow reporter Judith Miller in contradicting Libby's testimony to a grand jury about his role in the leak of CIA operative's name.
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.
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.
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Bloggers Join Frenzy at Media-Saturated Libby Trial
Journalists have descended en masse upon the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., to cover the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. But as the usual assortment of newspaper reporters and network correspondents clamor for their seats this week, bloggers join the ranks of journalists in the courthouse.
For the first time in the admittedly brief history of the blogosphere, the U.S. District Court in Washington has given the Media Bloggers Association two press credentials. A rotating cast of association members claims those seats each day, posting commentary about the trial.
In Place of Television
Bloggers are allowed to sit in the nearby press room and relay their posts via a wireless Internet connection. Given that no cameras, video, or audio equipment are allowed in the courtroom, play-by-plays posted on some blogs offer an alternative perspective on the trial. The bloggers insist that the posts not be read as transcripts. After all, they're not court reporters. Instead, they call the updates "liveblogs."
"Liveblog" commentaries can be snarky. ("Now she's got a pissed look on her face," the writers of Fire Dog Lake noted when describing former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the stand). But they also play it straight. For example, on Media Is A Plural, Rory O'Connor offers a dry account of each step in the trial:
"Defense then refers to Cooper's notes of his conversation with Libby. First, Libby gave him the full on the record statement about the Niger/uranium story. It noted that the VP was unaware of Wilson's trip until long after it happened."
Journalists On Journalists
Robert Cox was the first blogger to cover the trial during jury selection. He's also the president of the Media Bloggers Association. That's the non-partisan, 1,000-member organization that worked to secure the press credentials. After two years of wrangling with judicial officials across the country, the association finally won the chance to prove what blogs and bloggers can contribute beyond traditional journalism. And this case, in particular, is an interesting battleground to debate the role of blogs in journalism, since many of the witnesses in the trial are, in fact, journalists.
John Dickerson is covering the trial for Slate. He's also a potential witness but hasn't been subpoened. On his trial blog, he shared his surprise at hearing his own name mentioned during testimony:
"I was at the Scooter Libby trial to cover it, and all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the case. In his testimony today, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told the courtroom—which included me—that when I was a White House correspondent for Time magazine, he had told me that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
"Everyone had heard about Robert Novak, Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller, the reporters who had received the Valerie Plame leak. But now Ari was saying I was in that club, too."
In his Web articles, Dickerson denies having been told about Valerie Plame Wilson. Clarice Feldman, who currently holds one of the press credentials being shared by the bloggers, recounts the moment on Just One Minute. In one post, Feldman wonders how Ari Fleischer's testimony about Dickerson and David Gregory (who, like Tim Russert, works for NBC News) might affect the outcome of the trial.
"Dickerson denied the story absolutely. If he admitted it, his two written accounts would impeach that admission. But if Gregory confirms the Fleischer account, it becomes harder to believe Russert's fuzzy denial that he had no knowledge of the Wilson-Plame-CIA account. Either way, flaws in Fitzgerald's case are exposed."
Journalists On Journalists On Journalists
The writers at Fire Dog Lake keep their site updated throughout the day, offering a playful mix of colorful details and inane minutiae — such as this commentary, when reporter Judith Miller took the stand.
"Judy back. Looks like she's doing breathing exercises, pouring herself water. Got out of chair and is now back. Gets more water. Thanks person who brings more. Looking around cautiously. Closes eyes. Breathes. Breathes out. Looking straight foward. Head darts nervously. Staring forward. Shifts in chair. Looks toward Libby's team? Looks towawrd lawyers. Adjusts blouse. Looks at lawyers again."
This particular post inspired yet another popular blog, Wonkette, to question the utility of having bloggers in the courtroom.