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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez suddenly gathers more power at home. Are there signs of an emergent dictator?

CHADWICK: First, more today in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. This is Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. He's charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, accused of blocking an investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

Our colleague John Dickerson from the online magazine Slate is both covering this trial and, in some ways, participating in it. John, welcome back to the show.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Reporter, Slate.com): Thanks for having me.

CHADWICK: Now, let me just get the characters in this soap opera out of the way. The CIA agent is Valerie Plame - supposedly outed as an act of retribution by the administration - angry because her diplomat husband, Joe Wilson, said there was no truth to Mr. Bush's claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuke uranium in Africa. That's a record for the shortest summation of this.

However, it's still pretty confusing, but there you are.

Mr. DICKERSON: It's very confusing, but you've done a very good job. And Libby's on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into how Valerie Plame was outed, and so you have - if you think of the initial crime as her outing, he's in trial for the cover up, as it were.

CHADWICK: And what makes this so much fun - may I say - to watch is that there are so many characters involved in this whose names we know, administration political types and reporters - media figures. Just this week, was it Ari Fleischer - former White House spokesman - was on the stand, and whose name came up?

Mr. DICKERSON: This wasn't fun for me. I have a side role in this play. I was working for Time magazine when, in July of 2003, when the Joe Wilson's op-ed in the New York Times exploded this into a national question. And I was told by Ari Fleischer to go look at who sent Wilson to Niger to look into Iraqi efforts to get uranium.

Well, on the stand, Ari Fleischer said that he told me more than that - that he told me that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Well, that was very different from my recollection.

CHADWICK: Do you think he was lying about you, or suffering from a memory lapse? What was going on?

Mr. DICKERSON: I don't know. I don't think he was lying. He asked for immunity in this case, based of his concern that he told me - and NBC's David Gregory -about Wilson's wife working at the CIA. So I think his concern is genuine in that instance, but I think he's got some kind of memory lapse here because when I've looked at my notes that I took that day - July 11th in 2003 - I look at this file I sent back to Time magazine and then some e-mails I sent, they all support my account, which is that Fleischer and another senior administration official only pointed me and said go look who sent Wilson, as opposed to saying anything about the wife.

CHADWICK: Isn't Ari Fleischer kind of saying here, you know, Scooter Libby's on trial, but maybe John Dickerson really did it? And here you were, sitting in the courtroom, and you hear this. Does everybody's eyes kind of turn to you and say, hey…

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, they did. That wasn't actually what Ari was saying. The power of his testimony has nothing to do with me.

CHADWICK: It at least could be construed from it though that, you know, maybe Dickerson has the role in here.

(Soundbite of laughter) Mr. DICKERSON: No, actually, well - Ari's most powerful piece of testimony is that he lunch with Scooter Libby long before we ever went to Africa, in which Scooter Libby mentioned Valerie Plame and - Joe Wilson's wife, excuse me - having worked at the CIA. The reason that's important is since this is a perjury and obstruction of justice trial, Libby - in his grand jury testimony - said he never knew anything about Wilson's wife. And this lunch with Ari Fleischer contradicts that testimony. So that's really what's at the heart of this case.

The reason the Fleischer business with me came up was because he asked for immunity. And Libby's lawyers are poking at that, thinking he got some kind of special side deal.

CHADWICK: Okay. Ari Fleischer gets off the stand. You're off the hook. Suddenly, your old Time magazine colleague Matt Cooper is up testifying.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. He was up yesterday. It was kind of grueling watching him up there, just because you never want to have the journalistic process out there for everyone to see. But Matt hung in there, and basically, he says that he talked to Scooter Libby on the phone. Matt got the actual leak from Karl Rove, who said that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.

He then confirmed that with Scooter Libby the next day, and that's what he was testifying about.

CHADWICK: So has anyone called you to say, you're next on that stand there?

Mr. DICKERSON: No, no one has. And hopefully, they won't, and I'll get to slink back into my role as a reporter and leave this moment in the sidelight.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, where you can read his dispatches from the trial of Scooter Libby. John, thanks again.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thanks, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And we've more coming on DAY TO DAY form NPR News.

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