Libby’s lawyer wants reporters’ notes

Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s lawyer asked a federal judge on Tuesday to force news organizations to turn over reporters’ notes, drafts of articles and other material for his trial in the CIA leak case.

“We’re in a case now, that for better or for worse, the press is right in the middle,” defense lawyer William Jeffress told a hearing on whether the news organizations would have to comply with defense subpoenas for the materials.

Attorneys for The New York Times , Time Inc

and NBC News argued that they did not have any more documents that were relevant to Libby’s case, beyond those that have already been turned over.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at the end of the three-hour hearing that he expected to rule on the issue by the end of next week. He decided to review privately some of the materials to determine if they might be relevant.

Libby is charged with lying to investigators as they sought to determine who leaked the identity of a CIA official after her husband accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to build its case for invading Iraq.

His defense team has subpoenaed several reporters and their employers in an effort to show that CIA operative Valerie Plame was widely known to be the wife of the administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, before her identity was made public by conservative columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald relied on reporters’ testimony to bring perjury charges against Libby in late October. Reporter Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify.

Jeffress said he seeks two of Miller’s notebooks, without any deletions, to try to find out whether other government officials discussed with Miller Plame’s identity and where she worked before it was publicly disclosed.

Miller’s attorney, Robert Bennett, said the defense has all the materials in the notebook about Libby, Plame and Wilson. The redacted parts sought by the defense involved other sources discussing matters unrelated to Libby’s case, he said.

“There are only two notebooks here,” Jeffress replied. “It is not a fishing expedition.”

Walton expressed “major concern” if the redacted information in the notebooks came from sources on matters totally unrelated to the Libby case.

Libby’s defense also seeks earlier drafts of an October 16, 2005 article by Miller that gave her account of her dealings with Libby, Fitzgerald and her testimony before the grand jury.

They also want a transcript of Miller’s interview with other New York Times reporters and editors used to prepare for an article that day in October.

Lawyer Lee Levine said NBC News has no documents indicating that anyone at the news organization was aware of Plame or that she worked at the CIA before the middle of July.

Lawyer Andrew Lachow, representing Time, said Libby’s defense team has all the documents that previously were given to the prosecutor, and there are no additional documents about Plame or her employment at the CIA.

© Reuters 2006