Granting a former White House aide’s demands for classified documents to aid his defense in the CIA leak investigation would torpedo the case, the prosecutor is arguing.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald suggests that allowing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby access to the documents _ many of which Libby read or wrote while working for Vice President Dick Cheney _ would have a "breathtaking" impact on national security.
In arguments filed late Thursday, Fitzgerald said Libby’s lawyers were trying to derail the perjury and obstruction case by pressing for nearly a year’s worth of presidential daily briefs, summaries of threats to the U.S. that are among the government’s most closely guarded secrets.
Fitzgerald also asked U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton to protect the ongoing grand jury investigation by not forcing the release of the identities of other "individuals" who discussed a covert CIA officer with reporters in 2003.
In his filings, Fitzgerald also notes that he was submitting a sworn statement, filed under seal with Walton, detailing his reasons for keeping secret the names of people who talked to reporters, for keeping secret the names of others involved in the investigation, and his strategy in the ongoing grand jury probe.
The prosecutor’s public filing offers no insight into the identities or positions held by other people who talked to reporters about the CIA officer, other than to describe them as worthy of privacy protections because they likely will not be charged with wrongdoing.
The filing does not reveal whether presidential adviser Karl Rove remains under scrutiny. Fitzgerald also does not indicate whether he is investigating Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s source, whose existence was revealed after Libby was indicted last year.
Libby, 55, is charged with lying about how he learned CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity and when he subsequently told reporters. Libby’s trial is set for January 2007.
Fitzgerald accused Libby of attempting to commit "greymail," a reference to past attempts by government officials charged with wrongdoing to derail their prosecutions by trying to expose national security secrets.
On Friday, Libby attorney John Cline denied that the defense was trying to derail the case. "We are working lawfully and properly … to obtain documents essential to Mr. Libby’s defense," he said. "All we want is a limited number of key documents that Mr. Libby either wrote or reviewed during the most critical period in his case."
Libby’s lawyers want the secret briefings prepared for President Bush to show that Libby had more pressing matters on his mind than the disclosure of Plame’s identity.
Fitzgerald dismissed Libby’s "preoccupation defense," saying the prosecution already has given defense attorneys more than 11,000 pages of classified and unclassified evidence _ more than required under law.
But the defense team also wants every Presidential Daily Brief from May 2003 to March 2004, amounting to 277 intelligence reports.
The prosecutor warned the judge that turning over such highly classified documents would provoke a lengthy legal battle with the president.
Libby also is seeking access to more information about news reporters, CIA records about Plame and any damage assessments of the public disclosure of her identity to national security.
Fitzgerald said he has given the defense everything he has gathered on Libby’s conversations with reporters. But the prosecutor said he is not required to provide statements and testimony of reporters who will be called as government witnesses at trial.
He predicted that allowing Libby to press other reporters to identify their sources will lead to legal fights with news organizations and delay the trial.
Plame’s identity was published in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports.