Woodward, Novak: Armitage Was Leak Source In the federal perjury trial of former vice presidential aide Lewis Libby, his defense lawyers called some of the nation's best-known journalists to testify. Both Bob Woodward and Robert Novak said it was a State Department official — not Libby — who told them the identity of an undercover CIA operative.
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Woodward, Novak: Armitage Was Leak Source

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Woodward, Novak: Armitage Was Leak Source

Woodward, Novak: Armitage Was Leak Source

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Defense lawyers called a parade of journalists to the witness stand today at the trial Lewis Libby. Libby is the former vice presidential aide accused of lying about his contacts with reporters regarding a CIA agent. Earlier in the trial, journalists testified that Libby was the one who leaked that information to them. This week, a different set of reporters is on the stand.

NPR's Nina Totenberg was in court today and she's with us now in the studio. Nina, who were the reporters that appeared in court today?

NINA TOTENBERG: Well, there were a cool half dozen. Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, who primarily writes books these days. Also from the Post, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler, who write about national security and intelligence. From Newsweek, Evan Thomas. From the New York Times, David Sanger. And columnist Robert Novak, whose column disclosing the CIA identity of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson led - or of his wife - led to the investigation and the indictment of Scooter Libby.

NORRIS: That's quite a lineup. What was their role for the defense?

TOTENBERG: Well, first, there's what they said. All six said either that they did not talked to Libby about Ambassador Wilson's wife and her CIA job or that they had no recollection of talking to Libby about her. Walter Pincus from the Post said he talked to Libby in June before the vice president actually told him that Mrs. Wilson works for the CIA.

Glenn Kessler said he spoke to Libby two days before the Novak column appeared, but not about Mrs. Wilson. Newsweek's Evan Thomas said he had no recollection of speaking to Libby at all that week about Mrs. Wilson, and his phone records only showed a 35-second call from Libby, meaning that they probably didn't talk.

David Sanger said he talked to Libby, but about other stuff. Woodward said he talked to Libby in late June, but neither his notes nor his memory reflect any conversation about Mrs. Wilson. Woodward did say, though, that he had learned about Mrs. Wilson in June from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in the course of Woodward's researching his book on the decision to invade Iraq. And the defense played a minute-long tape of that conversation in court.

And I should add here, parenthetically, that Armitage apparently knew about Mrs. Wilson from the undersecretary of state - this is a little complicated -who had been tasked by Scooter Libby to find out as much as he could about the Wilson's for the White House. And then, there was Novak who said he got his information from Armitage, too, and got it confirmed by the president's top political aide, Karl Rove.

He said that he met Wilson the day that the former ambassador's op-ed came out, when both of them were in the green room at "Meet the Press." And Novak said he didn't exchange a word with Wilson while they were waiting to go on the show. But that he heard Wilson, talking enough to define that he was a Bush administration adversary. And Novak thought he was obnoxious - his word - and decided he wanted to pursue information about how a guy like this was the person that had been chosen to go on a fact finding mission to find about possible WMD.

And the next day, Novak said, Armitage, who had never agreed to see him before, called him to offer a sit-down. And on July 8th, the two men had a wide-ranging conversation in which Armitage, in response to queries from Novak, dropped the dime on Mrs. Wilson. One other thing that was interesting from Novak was that he said he didn't tell anybody else about the information in this column, but he gave a draft to a close friend who is a lobbyist. And Novak said that that friend apparently alerted the White House that the column was coming out.

NORRIS: Well, listening to the line of questioning and that tape that was played in the court today, Nina, what seems to be the defense's overall strategy?

TOTENBERG: With these witnesses, it's first to show that Libby talked a lots of reporters in late June and early July, reporters whom he did not tell about Mrs. Wilson. And secondly, this strategy - one suspects - is really confusion, to show the jury that so many people were involved in finding out about Mrs. Wilson, albeit at Libby's request that it's just impossible to figure out what happened and who knew what when.

NORRIS: Big question still hanging out there. Is Lewis Libby going to testify?

TOTENBERG: Well, officially, the answer is we don't know, but there are lot of signals that the current plan is not to have him testify. Initially, the prosecution and defense spend about two and a half months hammering out an agreement with Judge Walton on a script that could be presented to the jury on the assumption that Libby would testify.

And the script says, in essence, that Libby was concerned, or very concerned during this period, with a large number of specific national security issues. And the reason for this script was to avoid having Libby testify about all kinds of classified things that were going on to show that he was preoccupied.

Well, now the defense is fighting like cats and dogs to have that script read to the jury as evidence. If Libby does not testify and the judge, so far anyway, is saying he's not going to allow that because the prosecution only agreed to that script on the assumption that Libby would take the witness stand.

NORRIS: Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

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