NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Confidentiality/Privilege · Feb. 16, 2007
Libby trial testimony ends after 10 journalists take stand
Feb. 16, 2007 · Testimony ended this week in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, signaling the forthcoming conclusion of a trial that has subjected both the White House and the Washington journalism community to uncomfortable scrutiny.
In the end, three journalists testified for the prosecution and seven testified for the defense.
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller took the stand on Jan. 30 and said that Libby identified Valerie Plame to her as a CIA agent on June 23 and July 8, 2003. Miller, who spent 85 days in a federal prison in 2005 for refusing to comply with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s subpoena, directly contradicted what Libby told investigators about when he learned of Plame’s identity.
Miller’s attorney objected to Libby’s defense attorneys’ queries about her other sources. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton eventually allowed only limited questioning about her sources other than Libby.
Former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who also fought Fitzgerald’s initial subpoena, took the stand the next day and said that he had a conversation about Plame with Libby, although the defense pointed out that Cooper never referenced this alleged conversation in his notes. Cooper, whose notes and e-mail messages were displayed in the courtroom for the jury, also said that he first learned of Plame’s identity from Karl Rove.
The following week, NBC’s Tim Russert said on the stand that he never told Libby about Plame’s identity. This directly contradicted Libby’s assertion that he learned about Plame from Russert. Russert said he did not know about Plame until columnist Robert Novak referenced her in a July 14, 2003, article. Libby’s defense attorneys tried to get Russert recalled to the stand on Wednesday, but the judge said questions about an agreement he reached with prosecutors were irrelevant.
The defense’s witness list included seven journalists, and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus was the first to testify. On Feb. 12, Pincus testified that he learned about Plame from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. When Pincus originally complied with a subpoena during the leak investigation, he gave a deposition to investigators but did not identify his source.
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward took the stand after Pincus. Woodward said that he only testified because his source, Richard Armitage, waived confidentiality. The jury heard a tape of a conversation between Woodward and Armitage in which Armitage referenced Plame’s identity.
New York Times reporter David Sanger was the next to testify, despite his efforts to fight the subpoena. Sanger had argued that if he was forced to testify, it would be more difficult for him to make promises of confidentiality in the future. Judge Reggie Walton refused to quash the subpoena and Sanger testified that he interviewed Libby but that Libby never discussed Plame.
Novak then took the stand and testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame. Novak was the first journalist to publish information about Plame’s identity. Armitage has said he was Novak’s source.
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler also testified for the defense and said that that his job as a journalist in Washington would be virtually impossible if he was not able to use confidential sources. Kessler said that Libby never spoke with him about Plame, and Evan Thomas of Newsweek said the same thing.
The final journalist to take the stand was Jill Abramson, former Washington bureau chief and now managing editor at the Times. Miller had testified that after her conversation with Libby, she talked to Abramson about pursuing a story on Plame, but Abramson could not recall such a conversation. Abramson’s attorneys tried to fight her subpoena but were unsuccessful.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell also resisted her subpoena to testify. Libby’s attorneys decided not to call Mitchell after Walton ruled that they could not ask whether she heard rumors that Plame worked for the CIA.
The jury is expected to start deliberating next week.
(United States v. Libby) — ES