Editor's note: I am moving over to post at the other blog. Also see new articles below .---
Pincus Reveals Fleischer As Leak Source
Post Reporter Identifies Former White House Spokesman As Source for CIA Story
By MATT APUZZO
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer leaked the identity of a CIA operative to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus during a 2003 phone call, Pincus testified Monday as the first defense witness in the CIA leak trial.
Pincus was one of the first reporters to learn the identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson. Pincus said he learned her identity July 12, 2003 but did not immediately write about it. Plame was outed by syndicated columnist Robert Novak two days later.
Pincus testified on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby is accused of lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak of Plame's identity.
Pincus, a veteran national security reporter, said he was talking to Fleischer for a story about weapons of mass destruction. He said Fleischer "suddenly swerved off" topic and asked why Pincus continued to write about Wilson.
"Don't you know his wife works for the CIA as an analyst?" Pincus recalled Fleischer saying.
Fleischer testified at the trial earlier that Libby had told him about Plame over lunch. Fleischer testified he leaked the information to three reporters during a presidential trip to Africa but he did not mention the Pincus conversation. In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors promised not to charge Fleischer.
Libby argues that he never discussed Plame with Fleischer. Pincus' testimony helps defense attorneys make the argument that Fleischer needed someone to blame to cover up his own leaking.
Novak, whose column triggered an FBI investigation into the leak, was also scheduled to testify Monday, attorneys said.
Novak has said that Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, and Bush aide Karl Rove were the sources for his July 2003 column.
"You're going to hear that," defense attorney Theodore Wells said in court Monday morning. "He's going to testify about that in a few hours."
Novak and Pincus are two of several journalists whom Libby's attorneys planned to call. These lawyers also are fighting hard to force NBC foreign affairs reporter Andrea Mitchell to testify about why she said that Plame's identity was "widely known" even before the Novak column was published.
Mitchell has since recanted those comments and has said that she cannot explain them.
A key dispute in the case involves Mitchell's NBC colleague, Tim Russert. Libby says Russert told him in July 2003 that "all the reporters know" Plame worked for the CIA. Russert said that never happened because he didn't know who Plame was at the time.
Prosecutors say Libby concocted the Russert story to shield him from prosecution for discussing information he had learned through official government channels.
Libby's attorneys want to show that Russert had heard that Plame worked at the CIA. Fleischer has already testified that he told NBC reporter David Gregory about her. If Libby can show that Mitchell knew, too, they think they can persuade jurors to believe Libby's account of the Russert conversation.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said Mitchell can be called as a witness but he wouldn't allow Libby's attorneys to ask about her inconsistent statements.
In addition to Mitchell, attorneys have said several other journalists are expected to testify this week: New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson, Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas, and Bob Woodward and Glenn Kessler, along with Pincus, from The Washington Post.
Associated Press writer Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this report.