An all-star cast of Washington journalists took the stand in federal court Monday, as the defense began presenting its case in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
As David Sanger of The New York Times began to testify, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quipped, "You're the third Pulitzer Prize winner to testify this morning." (The first two were Walter Pincus and Bob Woodward, both of The Washington Post.) Syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak also took the stand, as did Evan Thomas of Newsweek and Glenn Kessler of the Post, another Pulitzer winner. All of the witnesses swore that they did not learn the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame from Libby.
Novak was the first journalist to publish Plame's identity, in a column about Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, published in July 2003. Although he took the stand as a defense witness, under cross-examination, Novak directly contradicted the story put forth by Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Fitzgerald asked Novak whether he'd talked with Libby the week before the revelatory column was published.
"It is accurate to say you two spoke that week?" Fitzgerald asked.
"Yes sir," Novak replied.
That conflicts with Libby's sworn testimony that he did not speak with Novak the week before the article appeared. Libby is not charged with revealing a CIA agent's identity. Rather, he is accused of lying under oath about his role in the leak.
Novak says he had two sources for his column, neither of which was Libby. He says his sources were former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House Adviser Karl Rove. Both men confirm this, and neither is charged with a crime. The defense is trying to portray Libby as a scapegoat — the only person indicted in connection with the CIA leak investigation, in an administration with multiple leakers.
Like Novak, Woodward of the Post testified that he learned of Plame's identity from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. The jury listened to an audio recording of Woodward interviewing Armitage in June 2003.
Woodward asked about former Ambassador Wilson, who went to Niger looking for evidence that Saddam Hussein sought material to make weapons of mass destruction.
Armitage said, "His wife works in the agency. ... This is what she does is, she's a weapons of mass destruction analyst out there."
Woodward testified that when he met later with defendant Libby, the vice president's aide did not mention Wilson's wife at all. But under cross-examination, Woodward admitted he may not have asked Libby about Plame.
Pincus of the Post testified that he learned of Plame's identity from then-White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer. Under cross-examination, Fitzgerald asked Pincus, "Did Mr. Fleischer ever tell you where he first learned about Wilson's wife working at the CIA?"
Pincus replied, "No, he didn't."
Fleischer has testified for the prosecution that he learned Plame's identity from Libby.