A look at the White House’s media machine


Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial continues to expose the inner workings of the White House media machine.

Cathie Martin, the former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney who last week discussed the preferred White House strategies for beating back negative media stories, returns to the stand Monday.

She’ll be followed by another media veteran, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who will testify about discussing a CIA operative’s identity with reporters before leaving the administration in July 2003.

The media strategy has become an early focus in Libby’s case. In mid-2003, the White House was fielding criticism from former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who said he had debunked prewar intelligence that was used to justify the Iraq invasion.

Martin testified nearly all day Friday and described a hectic scene as she tried to rebut Wilson’s claims. Few reporters were listening to her, she said, and those that listened didn’t believe her.

“Few of us in the White House had had any hands-on experience with a major crisis like this.”

Cheney drafted Libby, his trusted chief of staff, to help manage the story. Prosecutors say that as the White House responded to Wilson’s criticism, officials disclosed to reporters that the ambassador’s wife worked at the CIA.

That revelation triggered a leak investigation that Libby is accused of obstructing. He told authorities he was surprised to learn CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity from a reporter in mid-June. Prosecutors say Libby knew it days earlier from several sources — including Cheney — and discussed it with reporters.

Libby’s attorneys argue that the media campaign was based on refuting Wilson on the merits of his argument and that his wife was simply an afterthought. In the frenzy of responding to the story, they say, Libby forgot when and where he learned about Plame.

Fleischer’s testimony will be key to the prosecution because he says Libby told him about Plame and encouraged him to keep it quiet. As Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said in his opening statement: “You can’t learn something on Thursday that you’re giving out on Monday.”

Defense attorneys want to cast Fleischer as a witness who’s pointing fingers at Libby to save himself. Fleischer was promised immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Libby’s attorneys want to know exactly what Fleischer promised in return, so they can describe the deal to jurors. Fitzgerald says he never knew what to expect from Fleischer but gambled that it would help the case.

Nobody was ever charged with leaking Plame’s identity. Libby is the only person charged in the case.


On the Net:

Documents for the Libby trial

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