Sunday, March 19, 2006

Armitage may come under scrutiny in CIA leak trial

Armitage may come under scrutiny in CIA leak trial
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former top State Department official suspected of being the first person to discuss the identity of a CIA official with reporters is expected to testify in the perjury trial of ex-vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a court motion says.

The filing by Libby's defense team late on Friday asks Judge Reggie Walton to force prosecutors to turn over material they have about likely witnesses including former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Others who are expected to testify include White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, former CIA director George Tenet and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the document says.

It suggests Libby's team may try to pin blame on the State Department for the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to the public after her husband criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee told Vanity Fair magazine this week that it is reasonable to assume that Armitage told Post reporter Bob Woodward about Plame's identity before other Bush administration officials mentioned her name to reporters.

Knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent is against the law. But so far no officials have been charged with leaking Plame's identity to the news media in 2003.

Libby, set to go on trial in January 2007, faces charges of lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury during the investigation. Rove remains under investigation for making false statements.

Libby's lawyers noted that there has been speculation that Armitage might also have told syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who was the first to make Plame's identity public in a July 14, 2003, column.

"If the facts ultimately show that Mr. Armitage or someone else from the State Department was also Mr. Novak's primary source, then the State Department (and certainly not Mr. Libby) bears responsibility for the 'leak' that led to the public disclosure of Ms. Wilson's CIA identity," Libby's defense team wrote, referring to Plame by her married name.

Libby's lawyers hope to demonstrate that he was too preoccupied with national security matters to accurately remember his conversations with reporters about Plame, and have sought access to reporters' notes and top-secret security briefings to bolster their case.