Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Libby Needs New Headliner in Leak Trial

WASHINGTON - Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby needs a new star witness.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had been portrayed in court documents for months as his own best defense against perjury and obstruction charges in the CIA leak trial.

He was going to testify that he never lied to investigators. He would explain that he was so focused on national security issues, he simply forgot details about his conversations regarding CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Defense attorney Theodore Wells reversed course Tuesday and said Libby won't take the stand after all. Cheney, the other big-name Bush administration official on Libby's potential witness list, also won't testify, Wells said.

That spares the defense team two dangerous bouts with cross-examination. But it also forces Libby to look elsewhere for someone to make the memory defense for him.

John Hannah, who served as Libby's deputy and replaced him as Cheney's national security adviser, helped in that effort Tuesday. He described Libby as someone responsible for the nation's most sensitive intelligence but whose memory was notoriously spotty.

Libby also wants three CIA briefers to testify Wednesday about the classified national security briefings he received each morning in mid-2003.

"Mr. Hannah gave the overview and that was significant. We needed that," attorney John Cline said in court. "But the briefers will give the specifics, the real day-to-day intelligence."

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said the briefings could be used as evidence, but that was when Libby was going to testify about how that intelligence weighed on his mind. Now, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says that testimony shouldn't be allowed.

Without Libby's testimony, jurors won't know how important Libby viewed the classified briefings, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald argues that Libby was consumed with debunking war criticism by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and told reporters that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

Libby was not the source for Robert Novak's column that outed Plame and triggered an FBI investigation. But prosecutors said Libby feared repercussions because he did discuss Plame with reporters. Fearing his job and reputation were at stake, Libby lied to investigators about those conversations, Fitzgerald contends.

Most of the defense witnesses were reporters who said they talked to Libby around the same time Plame's name was being leaked. All said Libby did not talk about Plame to them. If Libby wanted to out her, defense attorneys argue, why wouldn't he take the opportunity with some of the nation's most well-known journalists?

Walton said he will decide Wednesday whether to let the CIA briefers testify. Defense attorneys said they plan to rest their case Wednesday. Closing arguments are expected early next week.

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Associated Press writer Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this report.

MATT APUZZO The Associated Press
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