Saturday, March 11, 2006

CIA must give Libby intel summaries, judge rules

CIA must give Libby intel summaries, judge rules
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA must provide summaries of its top-secret intelligence briefings to a former vice presidential aide so he can defend himself against perjury charges, a U.S. judge ruled on Friday.

The ruling is a surprise victory for Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is charged with lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury during an investigation into who disclosed the identity of a CIA operative in 2003 after her husband criticized the Bush administration.

Libby's attorneys have sought access to his daily CIA security briefings to bolster his defense that he was too preoccupied with national-security matters to accurately remember conversations with news reporters about the operative, Valerie Plame.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has called the request a tactic to get the case thrown out of court. That tactic could prove successful if the government refuses to turn over the briefings, which have been described as among the most sensitive in government.

Judge Reggie Walton ruled that the CIA must give Libby copies of the reports with classified information removed, or a separate summary of the topics covered in each briefing.

Walton also ruled that the CIA should tell Libby what inquiries he made during the briefings, which could help show what he had on his mind during the time in question.

"Preparation of this defense can be accomplished with a general topic description of the matters presented to the defendant during his morning intelligence briefings. These general descriptions ... would provide the defendant everything he needs to prepare his preoccupation defense," Walton wrote.

Libby had sought access to nearly a year's worth of intelligence briefs leading up to his appearance before the grand jury in March 2004.

He scaled back his request this week after the CIA said it would take at least nine months to produce the documents.

Walton said the CIA must turn over briefings presented to Libby in the month and a half before Plame's identity was exposed by columnist Robert Novak in July 2003, as well as during periods when Libby spoke to the FBI and the grand jury.

The White House and CIA have until March 24 to challenge the order, Walton said.

One expert said the ruling came as a surprise


"I don't think anyone was expecting Judge Walton to grant this motion," said former U.S. prosecutor Scott Fredericksen, a white-collar criminal defense attorney with Foley & Lardner. "I don't think people felt he had a real compelling reason."

Libby spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said she was still reading the opinion and not ready to comment.

A Fitzgerald spokesman declined comment.

Libby is scheduled to go to trial in January 2007.