Poor Memory Will Be Libby's Perjury Defense In opening statements, defense attorneys for Lewis "Scooter" Libby attribute any false statements the former Cheney aide might have made in past testimony to a faulty memory.
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Poor Memory Will Be Libby's Perjury Defense

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Poor Memory Will Be Libby's Perjury Defense

Poor Memory Will Be Libby's Perjury Defense

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

There is more testimony today at the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The vice president's former chief of staff was charged as part of the Valerie Plame-Wilson Leak investigation. The press was given her identity and the fact that she was a CIA operative. It happened after her husband, the former ambassador, accused the White House of misleading the country on Iraq.

Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: In opening statements yesterday, the stories outlined by the prosecution and defense were like night and day. As prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told it, Libby sought to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. And in doing so, told reporters about the identity of Wilson's wife. The crime for which Libby is charged is not the leak, Fitzgerald told the jury, it's lying to the FBI and the grand jury and obstructing their investigation.

As Libby's defense lawyer told the story, Libby didn't lie, he had a notoriously bad memory. And if he was wrong in his testimony, he misremembered innocently. What's more, he was being hung out to dry in a ruthless and backstabbing White House, a fish being fed to the press and the prosecution by those in the White House who are trying to save the president's top aid, Karl Rove.

Unlike Rove, said defense lawyer Ted Wells, Libby wasn't pushing stories about Mrs. Wilson, but he feared he was being made a scapegoat to protect Rove. And why wouldn't he be, said the defense lawyer, since Rove was, quote, "the lifeblood of the Republican Party." Peering behind the White House curtains, Wells told the jury that when the White House press secretary defended Rove, he had refused to do the same for Libby. The vice president's Chief of Staff then went to his boss and a furious Cheney wrote a note that was blown up for the jury. It read, quote, "not going to protect one staffer - meaning Rove - and sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others." As Cheney saw it, said Wells, he had assigned Libby to talk to reporters to rebut Ambassador Wilson. That was the meat grinder. And now, the White House was trying to sacrifice Libby.

Soon thereafter, the president's press secretary said that Libby, like Rove, had nothing to do with any leaks in the Wilson case.

In fact, prosecutor Fitzgerald said, both men had been blabbing to reporters about the Wilsons. Only Libby lied about it under oath. Both sides agreed yesterday that the White House was consumed with rebutting a column that Wilson wrote in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, disclosing that he'd been sent by the U.S. government to the African nation of Niger to find out if that country was selling uranium to Saddam Hussein for a nuclear weapons program.

Wilson concluded no such thing was going on and reported back to that effect. But shortly thereafter, President Bush, in his speech justifying the war, said just the opposite. And after Wilson's column was published, the White House had to eat its words.

Even before the Wilson column, said prosecutor Fitzgerald, for more than a month Wilson's trip had been on the administration's radar screen because of reports about it in the press. And during that time, Libby was frantically trying to find out more about the Wilsons and relaying that information to reporters, said the prosecutor.

Indeed Fitzgerald noted that when Libby talked to one reporter about Ambassador Wilson's wife, Libby changed the attribution the reporter could use. No longer could Libby be identified as a senior White House official, instead he was to be referred to a former Capitol Hill staffer, to hide his trail.

The prosecution's first witness, former undersecretary of state Mark Grossman, testified that beginning in late May 2003, more than five weeks before the Wilson column, Libby asked him to track down information about the former ambassador and his trip. Grossman eventually told Libby that the trip had been arranged by Wilson's CIA wife, which Grossman thought inappropriate.

Today Grossman will likely face a further grilling about the published report that actually led to this investigation: columnist Robert Novak's report disclosing Mrs. Wilson's identity, a week after the Wilson column. Grossman acknowledged yesterday that his boss, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, had confessed to him that he had been one of Novak's sources.

That Armitage had told him it was the dumbest thing he'd ever done and that he had offered to resign. The prosecution will likely point out that the Novak lead was only one of many, and that Armitage told the FBI the truth and was never charged. The defense will likely point out that the other source for the Novak column was not Scooter Libby, but Karl Rove.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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