Former Bush Spokesman Contradicts Libby's Timeline - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/30/07 - Washington, D.C.

Former Bush Spokesman Contradicts Libby's Timeline

Ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, center, arrives Monday at court in Washington to testify in the CIA leak trial. Ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, center, arrives Monday at court in Washington to testify in the CIA leak trial.

Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer testified Monday that Lewis "Scooter" Libby told him about a CIA operative three days before the date Libby claims he received the information from a reporter.

Defense lawyers for Libby then sought to shoot down Fleischer's testimony.

Fleischer, press secretary to President Bush from 2001-2003, first testified that Libby told him during lunch on July 7, 2003, that administration war critic Joseph Wilson was married to CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

The timing of Libby's revelation is crucial because he is on trial for lying to investigators about when he learned the identity of Wilson's wife.

Libby told investigators he learned the identity from "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert on July 10, 2003.

Libby is not charged with leaking Valerie Plame Wilson's name or her CIA connection. He is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury investigating who leaked the CIA employee's identity to reporters in 2003.

In his testimony Monday, Fleischer, who has an immunity deal with the prosecution, recalled that he and Libby discussed Fleischer's plans and their mutual love of the Miami Dolphins football team at the lunch. Libby then turned the conversation to Joseph Wilson, Fleischer said.

Joseph Wilson had written an op-ed piece for The New York Times, in which he challenged Bush's claim in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger.

Before the war, Wilson had made a fact-finding trip to the African country at the request of the CIA, where his wife worked on matters regarding weapons of mass destruction, according to court testimony. He said he had found no evidence of Bush's claim.

Libby said Wilson was given the assignment to go to Niger by his wife, according to Fleischer.

Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband filed a sweeping federal civil lawsuit last year over what they charge was a conspiracy to intentionally expose Plame's classified CIA job to reporters in 2003 to punish Wilson for questioning the administration's rationale for invading Iraq.

Defense challenges Fleischer

Under cross-examination by Libby's attorney, Fleischer admitted he could not remember whether Libby called Wilson's wife by name.

"On the name piece I think he told me the name," Fleischer said.

"But you can't be certain of that," defense lawyer William Jeffress prodded.

"With absolute certainty, no," Fleischer replied.

Jeffress also picked at a discrepancy in Fleischer's testimony.

In questioning about a CIA report on Wilson's trip to Niger, Fleischer said the report referred to the former ambassador by name.

When confronted with an assertion the report includes no such reference, Fleischer testified that perhaps the name was in the redacted portion not available at the trial.

Jeffress then said, "The blacked-out portions of the report do not contain Mr. Wilson's name." Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald agreed with Jeffress.

Fleischer remained certain about his basic assertion, that Libby told him that Wilson was assigned to go to Niger by his wife.

Fleischer testified that because Libby didn't tell him that Valerie Wilson's identity was classified, he passed the disclosure off as inside Washington gossip.

"My thought was nepotism," Fleischer said. "Somebody got a job because of a family member's position."

Fleischer granted immunity

Prosecutors had sought to inoculate Fleischer against attacks on his credibility by having him first describe to jurors details of a grant of immunity he received before testifying.

"My understanding is that I could not be prosecuted for what I did with the information that was provided [by Libby] but could if my statements were untruthful," Fleischer said.

Prosecutor Fitzgerald used testimony by Fleischer and a former Cheney press secretary to paint Libby as someone who used lies and deception in his ranking position at the White House to try to discredit Joseph Wilson.

Cheney's press aide testifies

Before Fleischer took the stand, Cathie Martin, then the top press aide to Cheney, concluded several days of testimony that cast a sometimes harsh light on the inner workings of the White House and other federal agencies.

Martin, who now is an aide to Bush, testified she was excluded from high-level talks to decide how to respond to the media in Libby's favor. It was during the controversy sparked by Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, in which he claimed Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger -- and the ensuing rebuttal by Wilson.

Martin ended her testimony Monday by saying that she had been asked to do something she was not comfortable with -- to potentially reveal to reporters classified information intended to help defend the claim that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear material.

That information would have come from a report known as the National Intelligence Estimate, that she knew was ordinarily classified. Judge Reggie Walton, who continues to take questions from the jury to directly ask the witnesses, asked Martin on their behalf why she did not push back on the request.

Martin testified that "the vice president of the United States had told me to say it, and so I didn't know where I was going to go."

She learned that Bush had declassified those portions of the report, Martin said.

Cheney aid testifies

Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, took the stand after Fleischer finished. His testimony will continue Tuesday, and he will be followed by former The New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Miller served 85 days in jail in 2005 for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigation of the leak of Mrs. Wilson's CIA position.

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