NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Over the past couple of weeks, a remarkable cast of witnesses has exposed the inner workings of the White House, the vice president's office and their relationships with several of Washington's best-known reporters.
While the specifics of the case center on allegations that the vice president's former chief of staff lied to the FBI and to a federal grand jury, the issues include intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, rivalries between the White House and the CIA and between the staff of the president and the vice president, the mechanics of media leaks and the relationship between reporters and highly placed sources.
The case dates back to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Africa to investigate charges that Saddam Hussein's Iraq tried to buy substantial quantities of yellow cake uranium as part of a nuclear weapons program. Wilson concluded that the charges were false, and after the president continued to cite them, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece that accused the White House of knowingly distorting the facts.
In the course of a campaign to counter those charges, administration officials told reporters that Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. The prosecution is trying to prove the Lewis "Scooter" Libby lied in interviews with the FBI investigators and before a federal grand jury. He's not charged with the leak but the cover-up.
If you have questions about the case, about the testimony heard so far, or about what we've learned about the relationship between the media and the White House, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later on the Opinion Page this week, bloggers and ethics, but first the Scooter Libby trial. Our guests are Marcy Wheeler, one of the handful of bloggers allowed inside the courthouse. She's been live blogging the trial for firedoglake.com. She also writes for the political blogs "The Next Hurrah" and the "Daily Kos." And she joins us today from the studios of member station WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nice to have you on the program.
Ms. MARCY WHEELER (Blogger) Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Also with us, Byron York, White House correspondent for The National Review. He's with us from the federal district courthouse here in Washington, D.C. Nice to speak with you as well.
Mr. BYRON YORK (White House Correspondent, The National Review): Good to be here.
CONAN: And what are we learning about the bush administration and how they deal with the media, Marcy Wheeler?
Ms. WHEELER: I'm not sure that we're learning anything new, but we're getting details that no one has admitted before. We're learning - you know, we learned for example that the vice president really likes to go on Tim Russert's show, that he's an easy mark.
From the perspective of the lefty blogosphere, that's been pretty apparent that when Cheney needs to go on a TV show and stay on-message and have an opportunity to connect directly with people, he'll do it on Russert, or he'll do it with Brit Hume, there are…
CONAN: On Fox, yeah.
Ms. WHEELER: On Fox, yes. So there are just a few journalists normally that Cheney will go meet with and get his message directly to people. But, you know, it makes it a little bit different when you're hearing that in court and you're hearing Cathie Martin, who was a member of the staff at the Office of the Vice President, saying yeah, send him on Russert because we control the message when he goes on Russert.
CONAN: And Byron York, as you've listened to this testimony and particularly as Marcy Wheeler was just talking about, that particular day of testimony we learned a lot about how the vice president's office ran media campaigns.
Mr. YORK: You know, I don't think it was all that much different from the way previous White Houses do it. We learned that when the White House has unpleasant information that it wants to get out, it does it on Friday afternoon so it's not as noticed in the press.
CONAN: Saturday morning's paper is the least read of the week.
Ms. WHEELER: Exactly. And so if you want to hide something and kind of sneak it out on Friday afternoon, that's what you do, and you know, I think that's been done in previous administrations.
You know, the part about "Meet the Press," you know, I think that there's another way of looking at it. The notes did say that it was the best forum for Cheney, and I think clearly the vice president does not come out by his own choosing and have a lot of news conferences with multiple reporters. He has tended to just do one-on-ones.
And so, you know, they said "Meet the Press." And I think that, you know, here again, White Houses always put people out on news shows when they need to get a message out, and the bigger the person, vice president being the second-biggest person in the entire administration, you know, the more likely the news show is to accept it.
So, you know, I'm not sure that we've seen anything new and different that the Bush White House did in terms of dealing with the media than other White Houses.
CONAN: Marcy Wheeler, let's go back to the rivalry, which I was unaware of, between the vice president's staff and the White House staff. Apparently in the defense - the prosecution's wrapping up their side of the case this week - but in the defense we were told in the opening statements that Lewis Libby feared that he was going to be thrown under the bus to protect Karl Rove.
Ms. WHEELER: I'm not entirely convinced by that. I think it makes a good story for the defense. I think that most people going back, and Adam Levine, who was working in the White House at the time, was telling people that Rove and Libby were the two people in charge of this leak.
So it seems clear that at least when the leak happened, Rove and Libby were both working this. But it seems like - there's a note that Vice President Cheney wrote that basically said we're not going to sacrifice one person who got his - maybe Byron can correct me on the quote - who got his neck put in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others, and he said plural, others.
But both the defense and the prosecution are going to use this note to talk about the centrality of Cheney in this and also Libby's efforts to kind of get himself exonerated in the fall of 2003. And one of the - you know, a good explanation for this is to say that the White House was trying to protect Karl Rove and throwing Libby under the bus and that Libby - I mean, that doesn't exactly even answer the question: Did Libby actually have anything to do with this, did Rove actually have anything to do with this?
Mr. YORK: Neal, if I could jump in…
CONAN: Byron York, go ahead, yeah.
Mr. YORK: Yeah. I think there's another way of viewing this. I mean, there's certainly one theory of the case that posits a broad conspiracy or at least a tightly run conspiracy inside the White House to expose Mrs. Wilson's identity in order to get back at her husband.
But what I think the testimony in the case has shown is a much more disjointed and confused reaction to Joseph Wilson. First of all, we have a completely separate track at the State Department in which Richard Armitage, the former number-two man at the State Department, has admitted being the main source for Robert Novak, which is the column on July 14, 2003, that starts this whole case. It identifies Valerie Plame.
And then we find out in the White House, as Joseph Wilson begins to level his charges against the administration, he first does it anonymously through a couple of columns and news stories, and then he comes out and makes his accusations by name in the famous New York Times op-ed piece.
And as his charges are coming out, you sense this reaction in the vice president's office, and it's basically two things. It's who is this guy, and did we pick him, did we send him to Africa? And there was actually testimony about the vice president's office getting in touch with the CIA, Libby does it, and says did we send this guy?
And the CIA, later in the day, tells him well, yeah, we did. And so the question is well, why did we do it? And then the CIA man, named Robert Grenier, says well, his wife works over here and she had a role in this.
So you get a sense of the White House trying to find out what was going on and operating on a completely separate track from the gossip track that was going on at the State Department.
So, you know, I think that it shows a picture of a much less sort of directed White House as one that was just kind of stumbling its way through the situation.
Ms. WHEELER: Although…
CONAN: Well let's get some - go ahead. I didn't mean to cut you off, Marcy.
Ms. WHEELER: Just two things. One is we do know, for example, that Dan Bartlett and Ari Fleischer were making responses in organized fashion. Presumably, that was with the knowledge of Rove. And we have yet to see the full details about what Libby was leaking where. We do know that he did testify to saying well, yeah, maybe Cheney did tell me to go leak Plame's identity to the reporters. That is fairly organized.
And as to - I just wanted to correct one thing that Byron said. Armitage has admitted to being the first person to leak Plame's CIA identity to Novak. We don't know because we don't know what transpired in the conversation between Libby and Novak, which just started coming out in October, and Novak's story about what he said to Rove has changed with every season, practically. So we don't know who the main source was. We know that Armitage didn't know Plame was covert, and we know that Novak reported that she was an operative. So my guess is the main source is still somebody besides Armitage.
Mr. BYRON YORK: We should trust the (unintelligible).
CONAN: Just a couple of ideas. Dan Bartlett is then and now the Director of Communications of the White House, Ari Fleischer, the former press spokesman. Go ahead.
Mr. YORK: No I just said we should stress that that is a guess. We don't have (unintelligible).
Ms. WHEELER: Right, we don't know. I mean there's a lot we don't know but we do know that Armitage didn't know she was covert. We do know that Libby told Fleischer that…
Mr. YORK: Well Libby didn't know she was covert.
Ms. WHEELER: We don't have evidence that he knows that she was covert. He did know that she worked in counter proliferation, which I know most people there are covert. I assume that Scooter Libby, who knows a whole lot more about security, also knows that most people in counter proliferation are covert.
CONAN: Anyway, let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us, our guests are Marcy Wheeler, who's been live blogging the Libby trial for various outlets, and Byron York, who's the White House correspondent for the National Review. 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. I should also probably mention Marcy Wheeler's book, "Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy." Anyway, let's go to Brad(ph). Brad's with us from Williamsburg in Virginia.
BRAD (Caller): Hi, my question is why is it that nobody's been actually charged with leaking of Valerie Plame's identity?
CONAN: Yes, there's a good question. Marcy Wheeler, if Mr. Armitage admits to being the source of the leak, or at least one of the sources of the leak, how come he's not being tried?
Ms. WHEELER: He's not being tried because - this goes back to what I was just saying. As far as Fitzgerald - in what has been reported - as far as what Fitzgerald has found, he was never able to prove that Armitage knew Plame was covert, and the statute in question in the IAPA requires that the person doing the leaking knows that the agent is covert and is leaking intentionally. And the whole - I mean the trial is actually not about the cover-up. The trial is about obstruction. And Fitzgerald is arguing that Libby told a story so that he could invent - and this is alleged. This is - I mean…
CONAN: That's the charge, yeah.
Ms. WHEELER: This is the charge. But the idea is that the story Scooter Libby told he kind of reinvented what he had done with regard to Plame's identity such that he didn't get the information from classified channels - from Vice President Chaney and Grenier, for example - and then pass it on knowing she was covert. And so by blaming journalists for giving him the information - and this is just Fitzgerald's allegation - by blaming journalists, Libby invented a story that would then make him no longer susceptible to the IAPA charge.
Mr. YORK: I have to confess, I'm a little confused. That is indeed Fitzgerald's argument, and I'm a little confused by that one because Libby has said that he learned her identity originally from the vice president. You can't get more official than that.
Ms. WHEELER: Right.
CONAN: Anyway, we're going to have to take a short break. More of your calls and more about this Scooter Libby trial and what we've learned about the case - about the White House, about the media and how Washington, D.C. operates after a short break. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about some of the details emerging from the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial here in Washington. They give us an inside glimpse of how the White House operates during a crisis and it's relationship with the media. Our guests are Marcy Wheeler, she's been live blogging the Libby trial for firedoglake.com and she's the author of the book "Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy." Also with us, Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review, who's been covering the trial from the start.
And of course, we want to hear from you. If you have questions about the case, the testimony or about what we've learned about the relationship between the media and the White House, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Or zap us an e-mail, email@example.com. Here's an e-mail that we have.
This from Linda(ph) in Berkley, California: One thing has puzzled me about the leak. Why would anyone think the fact that Wilson's wife had recommended him as the right person to go to Niger, as she apparently did, would discredit him. He had credentials because of prior experience in the area. A trip to Niger is certainly no junket to a posh resort area that would indicate a favor being done for Wilson because of the relationship. Marcy Wheeler?
Ms. WHEELER: That's a really good question. I - you know, I think Wilson has argued that by raising Valerie, they were just trying to scare other people who might come forward and challenge what the administration had done with intelligence. You know, there was - and Ari Fleischer testified to this on the stand that to him it's - and actually, frankly, to Grenier and to Grossman(ph) and to a number of other people who passed on this information about Valerie Wilson's alleged role in getting Wilson sent. The idea was this is improper. This violates the rules about family members recommending other family members.
CONAN: Nepotism, basically.
Ms. WHEELER: Yeah, exactly.
Mr. YORK: Well the - there's two things. First of all, most people involved in this thought that Mrs. Plame's - Mrs. Wilson's involvement helped explain how Joe Wilson himself was picked, as opposed to somebody from the CIA or somebody else who had other similar Africa experience. But I think the thing to stress also - and it's coming out in trial - is that it's not as if the question of the wife was the only way that the administration wanted to answer Wilson. They thought that there were some significant problems with what Wilson was saying. And they got the impression from the interviews that Wilson has done, especially with the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Wilson was claiming that the vice president's office had sent him on this trip. And they said no, we didn't do that.
And there was also a difference of opinion about how to read the intelligence about yellow cake and alleged Iraqi attempts to secure it in Niger. And finally, there was a question they felt that Wilson had stated something that was flat wrong when he had claimed again to Kristof to have debunked these infamous forged documents from Italy purporting to show an Iraqi purchase of the stuff. So the administration felt - put Mrs. Wilson aside - they felt that they had a case to try to knock down what Wilson was saying.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another call on the line. And this is Mary Ann(ph). Mary Ann with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.
MARY ANN (Caller): Hi.
MARY ANN: Thank you for taking my call.
MARY ANN: I just had a question about some of the larger implications of this trial and this leak case for the arguments that Vice President Cheney has been making about the constitutional authorities inherent in the office of the vice presidency. Bloggers have recently been drawing attention to a pattern of statements that suggest that Cheney thinks that the vice presidency is neither part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but has some special powers that allow it to really not be subject to normal channels of oversight. And I was wondering if your panelists might want to comment on the constitutional questions here.
CONAN: Marcy Wheeler?
Ms. WHEELER: That's a great question. I think that - one of the underlying questions here is the question of the degree to which the president and, arguably Chaney has allegedly made this argument that the vice president as well - to what extent can they declassify things. And there's circumstantial evidence to suggest that, in addition to the National Intelligence Estimate, Cheney was also talking about declassifying Plame's identity. That's completely circumstantial, but if it is in fact true that he was arguing he could declassify things - and this is something Tim Russert actually asked him on Cheney's last appearance there - could he actually declassify a covert agent's identity?
And I've always said I think there's a lot of people on the left who want Fitzgerald to have challenged this notion that Cheney could just declassify the National Intelligence Estimate on a whim and then give it to some journalists but not others. And I think that Fitzgerald probably recognized that that was a constitutional question, and by defining the scope of this trial as he did, he avoided that constitutional question and kind of punted it into the future.
Mr. YORK: Well I think it's true. In the courtroom, the judge is trying very hard to limit the case to the issues of did Libby tell the truth to the FBI and to the grand jury? And he said many times that we're not fighting the Iraq war. Just on terms of the Constitution, the executive power of the United States rests in the president and he can do this. Clearly, if it's something that Congress is so unhappy with him about doing, then they have recourses of their own. But there's no doubt that the president had the power to declassify this National Intelligence Estimate.
CONAN: Thanks, Mary Ann.
MARY ANN: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's go to - this is David(ph). David's calling us from Salt Lake City.
DAVID (Caller): Yes, sir.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
DAVID: Isn't this more a case of how one side, either left or right, spins the news or gets the news out spun a certain direction? Most of America, and I would probably say the vast majority, could care less about this case. It's pretty much a Washington insider's case and letting us look at how things - but we all know that the left is going to spin the news that they want out, the right's going to spin the news that they want out. And this is a whole lot of just, to me, wasteful spinning because the case is going to get thrown out because nobody remembers anything.
CONAN: Well, we'll have to see whether the case gets thrown out or not, David. But is this is as much about the media as it is about Scooter Libby, Byron York?
Mr. YORK: Well, yeah, I mean clearly the inner workings of some reporters have been revealed in this case, up to the point of actually projecting a report's notes on a screen in the courtroom, and they appear to be - parts of it are gibberish, just as part of my notes might appear to be gibberish if they were projected up on the screen. You know, one thing I would kind of agree with the caller about is, yes, this is something that's inside the Beltway of Washington interest. But what more of the things we found in jury selection was that not everybody inside the Beltway is interested in it.
I mean, these are people - it's a District of Columbia jury, so everybody lives here, and we found a number of people in jury selection who didn't read the papers, didn't keep up with this story, didn't really keep up with the war that much, had never watched "Meet the Press," and were just not all that involved in it. So yes, there's an enormous number of people who just aren't interested in this case.
CONAN: I have to add too, Marcy Wheeler, there are an enormous number of people inside and outside the Beltway who are intensely interested.
Ms. WHEELER: Well, I mean, I think two things. One is it's clear that a large number of people in this country are passionate one way or another about the war, and this case really goes to the foundations that the administration gave for their case for war. You know, that I think is getting spun by left and right. But one side which is not spinning, and that's what makes this case I think so fascinating - Patrick Fitzgerald is by all accounts as independent from a partisan perspective as you get. The guy is fiercely, fiercely - has fiercely attacked terrorism and the mafia, and he's prosecuted both Democrats and Republican, you know, corrupt politicians. We have not heard exactly what he is trying to do with this case beyond what we have heard in the courtroom.
He, you know, like - he's not left, he's not right. He doesn't - he's not been out there as Libby's team has, sending out press releases to a bunch of reporters. And that, to me, is one of the fascinating things that we're seeing about the trial is what this guy, who is really fundamentally apartisan, nonpartisan is saying about the workings of our government.
DAVID: I can read your blog and I can read Michelle Malkin's blog and get two completely different perspectives of this case and what you just said. That's why my premise is - it's nothing about spin. That's all.
Ms. WHEELER: Although I would say that - I have a counterpart on the right. His name's Tom Maguire, "Just One Minute," and very often Tom and I are looking at the same articles from newspaper reporters reporting on the story and we're both objecting to it. I mean, you know, he certainly has his right perspective and I have my left perspective, but to some degree the bloggers covering the story are saying: Boy, the media stinks. And, you know, this is an opportunity to give scrutiny to the media regardless of what partisan perspective you're bringing to it.
CONAN: And when you say just one minute, you mean justoneminute.com. That's his outlet.
Ms. WHEELER: Yeah, that's his outlet.
CONAN: OK. David, thanks very much.
DAVID: You bet, thank you.
CONAN: All right. Let's go - let's - the institution of blogging, this is the first time a federal court has provided seats for bloggers in a trial. And first of all, Marcy Wheeler, you're not in there all the time. There's a bunch of bloggers who want to be in there and there's only two seats and I gather they rotate, which is why you're in Michigan today and not here in Washington, D.C. But what do you do when you're in there?
Ms. WHEELER: There's actually - there's actually, I think, at least five seats. And I have never actually been in the courtroom so far 'cause I'm having so much fun doing the live blogging. So I'm in what's called the media room, which has close circuit screens showing the judge, the witness, the lawyers. And you also are seeing the exhibits that get put up in the courtroom. And you're seeing kind of a widescreen of what's actually happening in the courtroom.
And I'm just sitting there. The advantage of being in the media room is that you've got WiFi and you've got your computer with you. And I'm just kind of live blogging what I see as I go.
CONAN: So you're doing a…
Ms. WHEELER: At some point I'm going to - I'm sorry - at some point I am going to go into the courtroom just say I've been there and take a look at the jury.
CONAN: But you're doing basically both play-by-play and color?
Ms. WHEELER: Play-by-play and color and I would say that I'm - I mean Byron I think has teased me about this. I'm one of the people who's written the most about this case. So that as the lawyers are making moves, I've been pretty good at anticipating, you know, this is what Fitzgerald's trying to or this is what, you know, this is where Wells is going.
So I'm also trying to bring the reporting that I have done on the story to bear on giving people who are following along some sense of why the lawyers might be doing it.
CONAN: And I wonder, Byron York, as a member of the MSM, or mainstream media, as the bloggers refer to, I guess, you and me and as, what's the reaction not having this blog? I mean how has that changed things?
Mr. YORK: Well, you know, the impression that I get from reading around the Web is that there's a lot of gratitude for it. And I will say that the bloggers are doing something very good, which is Marcy and others are trying to be a kind of a online real-time court reporter. Not giving you verbatim transcripts but telling you what's going on.
And you know, in federal court we don't have cameras. And the only people who are seeing this trial are the reporters and members of the public. And by the way, on slow days there are seats of the public, if anybody who wants to go see it, who are actually in the courtroom. And then the group of credentialed media who are in, you know, maybe 25, 30 people, who are in this media room. And those are the only people who see it.
So the more information that you can get out of what's actually going on in the court, if it's accurate, is a good thing.
CONAN: We're talking with Byron York of the National Review and Marcy Wheeler, a blogger, about coverage of the Scooter Libby trial and about what we've learned. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get John on the line. John's with us from Libertyville in Illinois.
JOHN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I have heard Mr. Wilson called a liar for having made the claim that Dick Cheney sent him in the first place. And in fact last week on NPR, the reports referred to him coming forward and claiming that Dick Cheney had sent him. But I've also heard reports that Mr. Wilson has rather explicitly said that he knew that Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Scooter Libby had no knowledge of him being there. So I'm wondering what the reality is. Did Dick Cheney ever say to Mr. Wilson, Joe, I want you to go to Niger. And is this fair to call him a liar?
CONAN: Byron York?
Mr. YORK: Well, first of all, the scenario you just said absolutely did not happen. The vice president did not say, Joe, we need you to go to Niger. What happened was, this came out of questions that the vice president had asked in his intelligence briefing. The issue of Iraqi attempts, alleged attempts to find yellow cake uranium in Africa had come up. The vice president asked about it, and one its own accord the CIA later recruited and sent an envoy over there to look into this. That's Wilson, that's the case.
Wilson in his earlier conversations with Nicholas Kristof, when Wilson was still anonymous, did, I think, give the impression that the vice president had sent him. But when you read his New York Times op-ed, he's much more careful to say that he basically went as a result of questions asked by the vice president's office. In other words, he was pretty accurate about it by that point.
CONAN: And Marcy Wheeler, do we know if Joseph Wilson's reports saying there's nothing to these charges of Iraq trying to get Yellow Cake uranium, do we know if that report got sent back through he CIA back to the vice president's office, who asked the questions in the first place?
Ms. WHEELER: It's interesting. The exhibits that we're seeing show a range of data on that. Vice President Cheney definitely got briefed back on the Niger claims. And there's actually a talking point that the vice president's office put out at the end of that leak week where they've said it was meant to be a Q and A for Condi, for Condi Rice, Dr. Rice, to respond to on the TV shows.
And the question was, did anybody in the vice president's office see Wilson's report? And the response was, she didn't - they didn't give her the response no. So it was kind of a non-denial denial, which was coming directly from Cheney's office itself.
And there's some indication that in fact somebody at a high level gave Wilson's report to the IAEA in February 2002 - sorry - in February 2003 as justification for the Niger claim. And it's not clear. I've never seen any clear explanation of who that was. But some candidates for that would be either Armitage or Wilkerson at State, Hadley at NSC, or Scooter Libby. I mean those were the people who were working with the IAEA in that timeframe.
So it's quite possible that Libby saw it. I don't think Cheney ever saw the report.
Mr. YORK: Well, we should point out that Wilson actually never wrote a report. He gave an oral report to the CIA, and the notes of that oral briefing are what constitutes the, quote, "Wilson report."
CONAN: Okay. Thanks, John. Here's an e-mail we should get to quickly. Didn't the administration - where is it? Ah, here's the one. Wasting time here. This from Stacey in Charlotte, North Carolina. As this case has developed, I still cannot understand why Robert Novak has not been charged. No matter who in the White House told him, Novak is the one who outted her to the world. Very quickly, Marcy Wheeler, before we go to a break.
Ms. WHEELER: The statute only applies to people who have security clearance. So the journalists who report the leak aren't going to be tried for it. It's the person who has security clearance. If in fact he knew that Plame was covert, that's the person who gets tried for it.
CONAN: All right. We do have to go to a short break, and when we come back, we're going to ask Marcy Wheeler and Byron York more questions about what was emerging the last couple of weeks in the trial of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. The case involves weapons of mass destruction; it involves the lead of a CIA agent's identity; and it involves, today, testimony by an FBI agent named - Bond.
Back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
In just a few moments, we'll be talking about bloggers and ethics on the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. Should bloggers submit to the same rule as journalists when it comes to gifts and payments from the people they cover? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@NPR.org.
Right now we're talking with Byron York, the White House correspondent for National Review; and Marcy Wheeler, who's a blogger for "The Next Hurrah" and the "Daily Kos" about the Scooter Libby trial. The vice president's former chief of staff is on trial for lying to a federal grand jury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents about his part in a media campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. The case goes back to weapons of mass destruction and the war in Iraq.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is John. John with us from Boone, North Carolina.
JOHN (Caller): Hey.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
JOHN: Thanks for my call. I just wanted to comment about not the last caller but the caller before who was trying to make this case out to be a partisan issue between the left and the right. And I really don't think that it boils down to politics between either side. It's really nonpartisan to me. I think it - it really boils down to the fact that Americans are losing trust in their government.
I mean if Scooter Libby's chief of staff of Dick Cheney, then he's just a part of like the government as Cheney is and he's lying for whatever reason…
CONAN: Well, we're losing John's cell phone. But Byron York, the credibility of government, he argues, is not a left or right issue.
Mr. YORK: Well, I think the caller is in a minority position, believing that this is not a partisan matter. I mean it's become a deeply, deeply partisan matter. But I mentioned earlier that's kind of what the judge is trying to keep out of the courtroom, but he finds it very, very difficult. And he's trying to keep references to Mrs. Wilson's identity out of the courtroom, trying to keep the political charges that were going on at the time. This all was happening out of the courtroom. And it's a very, very difficult thing, and he's not really fully succeeding.
CONAN: Has the jury, Marcy Wheeler, been told who initially leaked Valerie Plame's name?
Ms. WHEELER: I think both Fitzgerald and Wells in their opening statements said that Armitage leaked it to Novak. Beyond that, we're just hearing from the people that Libby spoke to and that Fleischer spoke to as to whether or not and how many details they gave as to Plame's identity.
Mr. YORK: Actually, in his opening statement, Fitzgerald did say that Mr. Libby was not the source for Robert Novak. But he couldn't really bring himself to say the A word. But believe me, Ted Wells reminded the jury many times that it was Richard Armitage who did the leak and not Scooter Libby.
CONAN: All right. And let me ask you what's been going on there today, Byron York, because the prosecution wants to enter Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony into evidence, basically play tapes of what he testified to before the grand jury.
Mr. YORK: That's right, and there was a fight over that, just as there are fights over everything in this case. Everything has taken much longer than we originally thought it would. The defense objected not to the playing of the audiotapes of the grand jury to the jury - they didn't object to that - they objected to releasing those tapes to the public.
So they had this long fight about it and this morning the judge ruled in favor, not really of the prosecution but of the media - in favor of the media groups who were arguing that it should be released. So the judge ruled that after the tapes had been played in their entirety for the jury here, then that they will be released to the public. So your listeners will be able to hear excerpts or the entire tapes if you choose to play them.
CONAN: And these are hours of tapes, right?
Mr. YORK: I believe it's said to be about seven hours. So we're in for a very long haul.
CONAN: And so we had thought initially the prosecution was going to wrap up its case early this week. And Marcy Wheeler, it looks like it could go a little longer than that.
Ms. WHEELER: Yeah. I picked the right week to come back to do some stuff in Michigan, 'cause it's still going to be going on when it get back there next week. I do want to add one thing to what Byron said. In fact, the defense actually did originally fight entering all of the grand jury testimony into evidence, going back into December and November. They wanted to prevent that from happening. There's apparently some embarrassing things they didn't want to come out.
And then they wanted to prevent the actual tapes themselves from being released to the public. They appear to have lost both of those efforts though.
CONAN: And let's see if we can get one last call in. This is James. James is with us from Taos, New Mexico.
JAMES (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead.
JAMES: Is it possible that any new indictments can result from this trial?
CONAN: One of the allegations, obstruction of justice, if that obstruction is cleared, could there be more indictments, Marcy Wheeler?
Ms. WHEELER: I'm not holding my breath. I think that there are the chances that you could see perjury. I think that there - I mean there's - I've said before there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that Dick Cheney ordered Valerie Plame's identity to be leaked, but you would very quickly get into a Constitutional issue with that, and I don't think Fitzgerald wants to fight that battle. I think he's happy to see that this is exposed, but beyond that, it's probably something for Congress to deal with.
CONAN: And we're…
Mr. YORK: I would just add quickly that Fitzgerald has investigated this for three years, brought many people before the grand jury multiple times, and he's only brought one set of charges, and that's this. So it seems unlikely that there'd be anything else.
CONAN: And we still expect the vice president to testify for the defense, Byron York?
Mr. YORK: That's not at all guaranteed. You know, bringing the vice president up might allow the prosecution to open all sorts of other avenues, and you wonder what - what is it that the vice president could add, other than saying that Scooter Libby was a really busy guy and he might've forgotten some things. What could the vice president add?
So I think there's actually people out there who are thinking that the - we're all guessing - that the defense might not call the vice president.
CONAN: Marcy Wheeler, a lot of people have been waiting for the day that Vice President Cheney takes the stand and gets sworn in.
Ms. WHEELER: Yeah, I'm kind of with Byron. I think there's a lot of people who think that it was a ploy to be able to ask potential jurors their feelings about Cheney and thereby get to people's feelings about the war without actually asking about the war. And I also think just in the testimony that we've heard so far, for example, Agent Bond saying that Scooter Libby may have discussed with Dick Cheney about leaking Plame's identity to journalists - even there I think Cheney would have - it would be very difficult for the defense to scope what they ask Cheney narrowly enough to avoid either having him refute Libby's testimony or having him be put in a very difficult position himself. So I kind of am leaning against Cheney being on the stand.
CONAN: Okay. James, thanks for the call.
JAMES: You're welcome.
CONAN: And Marcy Wheeler, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Ms. WHEELER: Thank you.
CONAN: Marcy Wheeler, blogging the Libby trial for firedoglake.com. She's just written a book about the case called "Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the War in Iraq and Out a Spy." With us today from the studios of member station WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Byron York, appreciate your time today. We know you're very busy.
Mr. YORK: Thank you, good to be here.
CONAN: Byron York, White House correspondent for the National Review. He joined us from the federal district court here in Washington, D.C., where he's covering the trial. When we come back, the Opinion Page.