Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer contradicts Libby in court

Former Bush spokesman contradicts Libby in court
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday contradicted the story former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby has told about when he first learned the identity of a CIA operative whose cover was blown in the press.

Fleischer testified in Libby's perjury trial that the former vice presidential aide first told him the CIA operative's identity over lunch on July 7, 2003, three days before Libby has told prosecutors he first learned her name.

Fleischer, President George W. Bush's first press secretary, was the fourth government official to offer testimony at odds with Libby's account.

Libby resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff when he was charged with lying to investigators as they sought to determine who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the news media in 2003 after her husband criticized the Bush administration for manipulating intelligence on Iraq.

No one has been charged with intentionally blowing Plame's cover. Libby's lawyers say he first learned that Plame was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson from Tim Russert, the NBC News Washington bureau chief, around July 10, 2003.

Fleischer, who agreed to testify in exchange for a guarantee of immunity, said Libby told him about Plame the day after Wilson publicly charged the Bush administration with ignoring his findings that Saddam Hussein had not sought uranium from Niger. The administration used the story about Saddam seeking uranium to bolster its case for the Iraq war.

"I just remember him saying she works at the CIA, that she works in the counter-proliferation division," Fleischer testified.

"My sense was, this is kind of newsy, this is information nobody knows about," he said.

Wilson's charges came at a time when the White House was trying to blame the CIA for Bush's prior assertion that Iraq was seeking nuclear-weapons material from Africa.

Fleischer said he thought Libby was telling him about Plame to undermine Wilson's credibility and imply that she had arranged for her husband to go on the trip to Niger.

"What I was hearing was there was nepotism at the CIA, that somebody got a job because of a family member's position," Fleischer said.