MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Turning now to the trial of former vice presidential aide Lewis Scooter Libby, where the prosecutor got to the heart of his case today. Libby is charged with lying to the grand jury and the FBI about his role in revealing the identity of a CIA agent. Today, the prosecutor played audiotapes of Libby testifying before the grand jury.
NPR's Nina Totenberg has just stepped out of the courtroom to talk with us. Nina, now that the court has heard the bulk of the audiotape of Libby's grand jury testimony, what exactly did it hear?
NINA TOTENBERG: Well, this is an interrogation by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. It starts out friendly and gets pretty deadly. Fitzgerald basically goes over the same material again and again, repeatedly giving Libby a chance to change his testimony, remember events differently.
And Libby sticks to his story. He says in the week following the publication of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's op-ed in The New York Times accusing the administration of twisting intelligence, he, Libby, had forgotten that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that he didn't disclose that information to reporters, because as far as he was concerned, he didn't know that information.
NORRIS: And just to bring us up here, Libby's story is that he actually learned the information from Tim Russert of NBC on July 10th or 11th, four or five days after Wilson's op-ed appeared.
TOTENBERG: That's right. Libby says he called Russert to complain about Chris Matthews, also of NBC, and that Russert said he couldn't do much about Matthews and that Russert then pivoted in the conversation and asked did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA?
And Libby said he was, quote, "taken aback by that statement" and said no, I don't know that because he thought this was something that he was learning for the firs time, and then Libby quoted Russert as saying, "Yeah, all the reporters know it."
NORRIS: The prosecution's theory is that this is a cover story to hide the fact that Libby did know and had in fact disclosed the information to reporter Judith Miller. So how is the prosecutor handling that with the grand jury?
TOTENBERG: Well, Fitzgerald went through that week after Wilson's op-ed came out, when all hell was breaking loose in the White House, and the vice president is upset, to put it mildly. He has an underlined copy of Wilson's op-ed permanently affixed to his desk. With that picture in mind, prosecutor Fitzgerald asks Libby over and over again about what happened that week after the July 6th op-ed.
Are you telling me as you sit here today, under oath, that you did not discuss Wilson's wife with the vice president? You didn't discuss her with Ari Fleischer, the press secretary, when you had lunch with him the next day? You don't remember the vice president's press officer, Cathy Martin, telling you and the vice president that she had learned about the wife from the CIA?
But even with Martin's notes in front of him, Libby still insists he has no memory of knowing Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. You don't remember asking the State Department's Mark Grossman to find out more about this a few weeks earlier? You don't remember asking the CIA's Robert Grenier, either?
No, Libby says, he doesn't recall any of that. Fitzgerald sounds more and more disbelieving as he adds twist after twist. He shows Libby, for example, Libby's own notes of a senior staff meeting that week, and in those notes, Libby quotes Karl Rove, the president's top political aide, as complaining that Wilson's being taken as a credible expert and that that's undermining the president's trustworthiness.
Fitzgerald then asks do you recall an effort that week to push back on Wilson's credibility? Wilson concedes there was such an effort. And Fitzgerald asks is it fair to say that if people thought Wilson had been hired because of nepotism that would undermine his credibility? Libby insists that on that day, July 8th, he didn't know about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity and could not have given that information to reporter Judith Miller.
NORRIS: Now Nina, we've talked about Judith Miller. Why did Libby say he talked to her?
TOTENBERG: And he talked to her on July 8th. He said he chose her because he viewed her as a responsible reporter and someone who shared his worldview when it came to the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and that's of course pretty ironic now, since she's given testimony that directly contradicts him. She says he told her about Wilson's wife, and that provides a motive for his alleged false testimony. He says he was talking to her about the national intelligence estimate, which had been declassified by order of the president so that he could talk to her and rebut Wilson's argument in his op-ed.
NORRIS: Nina, a quick look ahead before we let you go. So tomorrow or the next day, we'll come to the end of the grand jury testimony and the final prosecution witness, which is expected to be Tim Russert. What's he expected to say?
TOTENBERG: He's going to say that he didn't tell Libby anything about Mrs. Wilson working at the CIA and couldn't have told her because he simply didn't know that information.
NORRIS: Thank you, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Nina Totenberg.
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