Defense Lawyers Paint Libby as Scapegoat

Some of the nation's best-known journalists are called to the witness stand. Defense attorneys for Lewis "Scooter" Libby will try to show that he is a scapegoat for others who helped expose the identity of a CIA operative.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The trial of Lewis Libby offers a window into how you get your news. A parade of reporters has been called to testify in the trial of the former White House aide. First came prosecution witnesses, then yesterday, reporters for the defense. All this testimony involves how and by whom Valerie Plame Wilson was revealed as an operative for the CIA. That happened after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the White House of twisting intelligence about Iraq.

Here's NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: In all, six journalists testified yesterday with more expected today or tomorrow. The journalistic cast was called by the defense, in essence, to prove a negative. All six said they either did not discuss Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity with Libby, or they could not recall having done so. The defense presumably will argue to the jury that if Scooter Libby was part of a plot to leak Valerie Wilson's name, he would have been leaking to any interested reporter. But none of the six reporters yesterday said Libby had told them anything about Mrs. Wilson.

In his grand jury testimony though, Libby said he had selected Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, whom he viewed as ideologically sympathetic to talk to about what Vice President Cheney considered a bum rap: the notion that intelligence had been deliberately twisted to justify the war. Libby told the grand jury that, although the president of the United States had personally declassified information for him to discuss with Miller, he did not seek to personally discredit Ambassador Wilson and had not discussed Mrs. Wilson's CIA employment. But Miller contradicted that in her trial testimony and in her notes of her conversations with Libby.

The defense has also argued that Libby had no reason to lie to the grand jury since the leak that spurred the investigation came from columnist Robert Novak. Libby told the grand jury he had not talked to Novak, so yesterday the defense called Novak to the stand. The columnist said he had, in fact, talked to Libby but got nothing out of him about former Ambassador Wilson's wife. His primary source for his column - disclosing Mrs. Wilson's identity - he said was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. The information, he said, was confirmed by a White House political guru, Karl Rove.

The State Department's Armitage also blabbed about Mrs. Wilson to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. Woodward was researching a book on the decision to invade Iraq and talked to Armitage on that basis. Woodward testified yesterday, that in a long tape recorded interview, about a minute was devoted to questions about former Ambassador Wilson. Yesterday, defense lawyers played the relevant portion for the jury, in which Woodward is pressing to find out why Wilson was selected by the CIA for a fact-finding mission to Africa that dealt with possible Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium for weapons of mass destruction.

Woodward: Why would they send him?

Armitage: Because his wife is an expletive deleted analyst at the agency.

Woodward: It's still weird.

Armitage: It's perfect. That's what she does. She's a WMD analyst out there.

It's not yet clear whether Armitage himself will testify. He's on the defense witness list, but he may be more useful as an alternative theory for the defense than as a real live witness. If he is called by the defense, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would likely point out that Armitage came clean on the leak right away, while Libby - as the prosecutor sees it - lied.

It seems increasingly unlikely that Libby will testify in his own defense; or that his one-time boss, Vice President Cheney, will either. In legal motions yesterday, the defense sent a strong signal that it's leaning against calling Libby. Defense lawyers argue that even if they don't call him to testify, they should be able to tell the jury that in the spring and summer of 2003, at the time of the leaks, Libby was preoccupied with scary national security threats from al-Qaida.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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