Libby’s lawyer plans to link Bush to Plame scandal

The lawyer for former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby said on Friday he would argue that his client revealed intelligence on Iraq after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized it and President George W. Bush declassified the information.

At a hearing on what documents the prosecution must turn over to the defense, lawyer Theodore Wells also said he believed there may be testimony or statements by Bush and Cheney that the disclosure of the intelligence was authorized.

Wells said he was entitled to any such information from the special prosecutor investigating who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to the news media.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled that prosecutors must turn over information about how the intelligence was declassified because it was important to Libby’s defense.

Prosecutors disclosed last month that Libby had testified he had been authorized to disclose the intelligence to reporters in the summer of 2003, to counter criticism of Bush’s Iraq policy from Plame’s husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Bush has acknowledged declassifying the information, prompting charges of hypocrisy from Democrats who say he has denounced some leaks while encouraging others.

Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, is charged with lying to investigators as they sought to determine who disclosed Plame’s name to a conservative columnist in July 2003.

Wells said he would tell the jury that Libby disclosed the intelligence with Cheney’s authorization and with the understanding Bush had declassified it.

The trial is scheduled to begin in January, keeping alive an issue that has dogged the White House for months.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he already turned over the relevant documents. Fitzgerald said he agreed with the defense the intelligence had been declassified, but did not know precisely when that happened.

The leak occurred at a time when opponents were stepping up their criticism of the March 2003 invasion after U.S. forces had failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Wells also said he planned to attack the credibility of Wilson, a former ambassador. He said he planned to call five witnesses who would say that Wilson told them about his wife working at the CIA.

Wilson investigated for the CIA an administration claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium, an ingredient used in nuclear weapons, in Niger, and he later wrote in a New York Times article that the charges could not be substantiated.

Wells said he wanted a wide range of government documents about Wilson’s trip to Niger.

The judge rejected the request on the grounds that it was not relevant to the lying charges against Libby. “I’m just not going to let this case become a judicial resolution of the legitimacy of the (Iraq) war,” he said.

Wells also said top White House aide Karl Rove would likely be a defense witness at the trial and the prosecutor must turn over information about Rove, who remains under investigation.

Fitzgerald said he was not withholding information about Rove. Rove, who faces possible perjury charges, last month testified before a grand jury for the fifth time. Fitzgerald has yet to decide whether to charge Rove.