By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Reporter Judith Miller testified Tuesday that former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby identified a CIA operative to her on two occasions on dates earlier than he has told investigators he first heard the name from another reporter.
Miller, the former New York Times reporter who spent 85 days in jail trying to avoid revealing these conversations, said Libby identified the wife of a prominent Iraq war critic as a CIA employee in face-to-face meetings on June 23 and July 8, 2003.
Libby, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, told the FBI and a grand jury that he thought he was hearing Valerie Plame’s CIA job for the first time from NBC’s Tim Russert on July 10, 2003.
Five government officials, including ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also have testified that they discussed Plame and her CIA job with Libby before July 10.
Earlier Tuesday, the jury saw notes Libby took on or about June 12 that indicated Cheney himself told Libby then that the war critic’s wife worked at the CIA.
The discrepancy over when Libby learned about Plame is a major element in the charges on which he is being tried. He is not accused of leaking her name but rather of perjury and obstruction of the investigation into how her name leaked. Libby now says his memory failed him when he spoke with Russert and other reporters.
Miller became a heroine to many press groups when she went to jail rather discuss conversations with a source whose identity she had agreed not reveal. She since left the Times for freelancing amid a controversy over her reporting techniques. Her appearance at the trial filled the courtroom seats for the first time and drew several retired reporters.
Accompanied to court by her defense attorney, Bob Bennett, Miller answered Fitzgerald’s questions in a calm, clear voice never taking her gaze from him. She seemed less calm when questioned by defense attorney William Jeffress; her eyes darted occasionally to the jury and she cleared her nose into a handkerchief.
Anticipating a defense attack on her memory, Fitzgerald brought out that Miller did not mention the June 23 meeting in Libby’s office during her first grand jury testimony Ã¢â‚¬â€ after she finally decided Libby had freed her from a promise not to discuss their conversations. Miller testified that at Fitzgerald’s request she went back and found notes of the June 23 meeting and then described it in a later grand jury appearance.
Libby attorney Jeffress did come back at her again and again over her memory of the June 23 meeting and her memory in general. Their exchanges occasionally became testy.
In his most telling foray, Jeffress asked how she could testify that Libby was agitated on June 23 when she couldn’t even remember the meeting in her first grand jury testimony. He played a tape of a broadcast interview in which she had said “it’s really easy to forget details of a story you’re not writing.” She testified she never intended to write a Plame story herself.
Miller mostly held firm. Acknowledging her memory “is mostly note-driven,” she insisted that rereading the notes “bought back these memories” of the June 23 meeting.
Miller testified that on June 23, 2003, in Libby’s office the topic of war critic Joseph Wilson arose. An ex-ambassador, Wilson had publicly questioned President Bush’s justification for the Iraq war.
Wilson said he was sent to Niger in 2002 to answer questions from Cheney about reports Iraq was trying to buy uranium for nuclear weapons there. He said he debunked the story and his report should have reached Cheney long before Bush repeated the uranium story in his January 2003 State of the Union address.
Miller recalled that Libby told her that the CIA, not Cheney, sent Wilson to Niger and Wilson’s wife worked in the “bureau.” She initially thought he meant the FBI, but “through the context of the discussion, I quickly determined it to be the CIA,” she testified.
Miller also discussed a second meeting with Libby, at a local hotel restaurant on July 8, 2003. She said Libby mentioned that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA division specializing in weapons of mass destruction.
Earlier Tuesday, David Addington, who was Cheney’s legal counsel during the CIA leak controversy, described a discussion with Libby in September 2003 around the time the leak investigation began.
“I just want to tell you, I didn’t do it,” Addington recalled Libby saying. “I didn’t ask what the ‘it’ was,” Addington added.
Fitzgerald hopes Addington’s testimony will bolster his argument that Libby was worried about whether his conversations with reporters were improper and therefore he lied to conceal them.
The jury was sent home early so lawyers could argue over Jeffress’ desire to ask Miller to name other confidential sources she previously said she spoke with about Wilson’s printed criticisms. Jeffress said he thought she wouldn’t remember any and that would impeach her credibility. Bennett, however, told the judge, “They’re not going to get this gem they think” because she remembers sources who discussed other aspects of Wilson’s criticism but no one who mentioned Plame before Libby did. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton reserved judgment.
Associated Press Writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press