Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby says that during the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent’s identity he was preoccupied with terrorist threats, Iraq’s new government and emerging nuclear programs in Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.
Court records released Friday offered the first glimpse of the type of classified information Libby wants to share with jurors at his upcoming perjury and obstruction trial.
Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury about his conversations with journalists regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Libby plans to testify that he had other, more weighty issues on his mind and simply misspoke or forgot when interviewed by the FBI and the grand jury.
Among those issues were the 2003 rise of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a diplomatic crisis in Turkey, the ousting of Liberian President Charles Taylor and the role of the Iraqi military after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled last month that Libby must have access to some classified information at trial but, until Friday, the topics were sealed.
A redacted copy of Walton’s opinion revealed that Libby wants to use 129 classified documents. Walton said Libby could discuss documents that fell on or near key dates in the case, such as when the aide spoke to reporters and investigators.
Libby’s bid for classified information is significant for two reasons. If the government decides the material Walton orders released cannot safely be made public, the case could be dismissed. If the case goes forward and the evidence is allowed, the trial could offer a behind- the-scenes look at the White House in the early months of the war in Iraq.
Exactly what Libby may say about the classified topics is unclear. Prosecutors and defense attorneys continued to argue those issues behind closed doors this week.
Walton said he tried to balance national security concerns with Libby’s right to a fair trial. The judge stressed that pre-approving classified evidence “requires a court to play the role of Johnny Carson’s character Carnac the Magnificent by requiring it to render rulings before knowing the exact context of how those rulings will coincide with other evidence that has actually been developed at trial.”
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said he may appeal Walton’s ruling, a move that could delay a trial scheduled to begin next month. Cheney and White House aide Karl Rove could be called as witnesses.
Libby is the only person charged in Fitzgerald’s three-year investigation into whether the White House revealed Plame’s identity as retribution for her husband’s criticism of the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence on Iraq. Nobody has been charged with the leak.