By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer Thu Feb 1, 6:07 PM ET
Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby acknowledged he may have discussed with Vice President Dick Cheney whether to tell reporters that a prominent war critic's wife worked at the CIA, an FBI agent testified Thursday.
Agent Deborah Bond's brief description of Libby's acknowledgment was about the only new information disclosed on the day. Otherwise, Libby's perjury trial was devoted mostly to dealing with vigorous and repeated defense efforts to exclude evidence that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald called "the guts of our case."
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton accepted some defense arguments and rejected others during hours-long debates held outside the jury's presence.
But the government was able to show the jury small portions of video of then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan saying President Bush would fire anyone who was found to have leaked classified information. The video also showed McClellan saying he had been assured Libby did not leak classified information.
McClellan spoke in October 2003, shortly before Libby was interviewed by the FBI.
Libby is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters concerning CIA operative Valerie Plame and obstructing an investigation of how her identity and CIA job were leaked to the press in 2003. Fitzgerald said Libby's motive was to avoid being fired.
Libby's acknowledgment of a possible discussion with Cheney about revealing Plame's job is likely to have more impact on political debate about the Plame leak than on the trial because Libby is not charged with the actual leak.
The trial recessed until Monday before Bond was asked whether Libby described for the FBI details of his talk with Cheney or any decisions he and Cheney may have reached. Libby denies he leaked the name.
The legal arguments delayed the jury's entry into the courtroom until after 2 p.m. Jurors remained attentive even though Bond testified in a low, often halting monotone.
Bond said that during Libby's second FBI interview in his office on Nov. 23, 2003, Libby described flying back from Norfolk, Va., with Cheney on July 12, 2003, at the height of public controversy over allegations made by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Libby told the FBI he went to the front of the plane to get a statement Cheney wanted released to the press. It denied Wilson's suggestion that Cheney was behind Wilson's trip to Niger in 2002 to investigate a report that Iraq was trying to buy uranium there for nuclear weapons.
Wilson had said in print and on television on July 6, 2003, that he debunked the uranium report and Cheney should have known that long before Bush cited the uranium story in his January 2003 State of Union speech as a justification for war with Iraq.
Bond testified Libby told the FBI "there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA." She added that Libby expressed some doubt.
"Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure," she said.
She said Libby did say he had discussed Wilson's wife with Cheney sometime after discussing her with NBC reporter Tim Russert on either July 10 or 11, 2003.
Prosecutors did not ask Bond to amplify on the possible Libby-Cheney exchange about revealing Plame's job. Nor did defense lawyer Theodore Wells in the first part of his cross-examination.
Bond said Libby told the FBI that Russert asked him if Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and Libby said he replied that he did not know that. Libby has claimed he had forgotten by the time of the Russert conversation that he had earlier learned Plame's job from Cheney around June 12, 2003.
Libby told the FBI that Russert told him on July 10 or 11, 2003, that she worked at the CIA and "all the reporters knew that," Bond testified.
Libby told the FBI "he was surprised and it was the first time he heard it," Bond testified.
The government intends to call Russert, who says that Wilson's wife never even came up in this conversation with Libby. Eight government witnesses, including two reporters, have testified to discussions with Libby about Plame's job before his talk with Russert.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Government exhibits: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln/osc/index.html