By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press
Defense attorneys for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on Thursday won the opportunity to question a journalist they hope will undercut the prosecution’s perjury case against the former White House aide.
A battle over the scope of the defense case broke out just after Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald rested the government’s case in the CIA leak trial in midafternoon.
The prosecution presented 11 days of testimony ending with NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. The familiar host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” contradicted Libby over whether they discussed CIA operative Valerie Plame on July 10, 2003, and Russert refused to budge from that under more than a day of cross examination.
Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about his talks with reporters concerning Plame and with obstructing an investigation into how her name and employment at CIA got leaked in July 2003, days after her husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized President Bush’s justifications for the Iraq war.
After the jury was sent home until Monday, prosecutors joined news media attorneys in efforts to limit the defense’s ability to call and question other journalists.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled that Libby’s lawyers can call New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson over objections from the prosecutors and her lawyer, Charles Leeper.
Defense attorneys want Abramson to repeat her out-of-court denials that reporter Judith Miller urged Abramson ? then Washington bureau chief ? to pursue the story of Plame’s role in sending her husband to Niger to investigate whether Iraq was trying to buy uranium there for nuclear weapons.
Miller testified she recommended Abramson pursue the Plame story after Libby told her of Plame’s role in the trip, which formed the basis for Wilson’s allegations that Bush twisted intelligence to justify the war.
Libby denies telling Miller about Plame’s CIA job or that she first proposed his trip. Libby’s attorneys believe that calling into question the next part of her story ? her talk with Abramson ? will cast doubt on her recollection of her talk with Libby.
Walton reserved judgment until Monday on how far the defense can go in questioning NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell about a videotaped interview she gave Oct. 3, 2003.
In the video, played with the jury out of the room, Mitchell said she and other intelligence reporters who were trying to find out who went to Niger knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Since then, she has recanted that, claiming she got confused about the timing referenced by the questioner.
Because Mitchell worked for Russert, the defense claims this would undercut his story that he first learned about Plame from a July 14, 2003, column about Plame and support Libby’s story that Russert told him on July 10 that lots of reporters know about Plame.
Walton was dubious, because Mitchell now recants the statement and Russert testified he didn’t hear about Plame from Mitchell. Walton said the defense would be asking the jury to make “a whole lot of inferences” and questioned whether the testimony would violate rules against hearsay evidence. He asked for briefs from all sides.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Russert proved as tenacious a witness in court as he is a questioner on television.
Russert defended himself Thursday against a defense attack on his ethics and credibility.
Often jovial and smiling on “Meet the Press,” Russert was serious and all business on the stand.
Russert avoided several traps laid by defense attorneys but grew testy when they asked him to explain why he told an FBI agent about his conversation with Libby but later fought a court battle against testifying about the talk on grounds it was confidential.
Russert claimed the FBI agent, who requested confidentiality, was giving him information, some of which he felt impelled to correct. He said that was different from going into court to answer questions about his talks with sources.
The above was provided by The Associated Press.
Earlier, E&P covered the day’s events as follows.
First out of the box this a.m. was a jury problem. Apparently their access to newspapers, or at least the news parts of them, are tightly restricted but one juror brought to the attention of a marshal that he or she had seen a photo of witness Russert in The Washington Post along with the headline “Tim Russert on the Uncomfortable Side of a Question.”
The judge quizzed the jury– no juror said he or she had read the article, and the trial resumed.
Libby’s defense attorney, Ted Wells, picked up where he left off yesterday, probing Russert on his original refusal to testify before the grand jury, after having spoken to the FBI about the conversation. He went over Russert’s statements about the case on several occasions on TV, leading up to what is expected to be defense claims that Russert’s colleague Andrea Mitchell at first said that reporters knew about Valerie Plame working at the CIA before all this — and then she disavowed this remark, on the Don Imus show, suggesting to the defense that Russert had something to do with this shift.
Much discussion followed on the Russert/Mitchell issue, with the judge seeming to side with the prosecution that it is much ado about nothing much. Prosecution questioned value of evidence of any value emerging from the Imus show.
After lunch, they continued in this vein — what Drudge has labeled “Meet the Cross.” Attorney Wells tried to show that Russert was delighted when news broke of Libby indictment. Russert explained that it was merely a case of heightened news sense — getting ready to cover a big story. Then he recalled he was surprised when he heard his name come out of the prosecutor’s mouth as he explained indictment. With that, at mid-afternoon, it seemed to be end of Russert’s ordeal.
Indeed, by 3:30, Fitzgerald announced, “The prosecution rests.”
As in previous days, these updates are largely based on blogging from the courthouse by FireDogLake.com, which have proved accurate, plus wire service reports as they become available.