Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jury hears tape of Libby's grand jury testimony; conflicts with testimony of others re: Leak of Plame's name

The New York Times
Court Hears Tapes of Libby’s Grand Jury Testimony

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 — Prosecutors in the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. played audio tapes today in which Mr. Libby was heard testifying under oath before a grand jury that he had not discussed the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative with fellow administration officials in the summer of 2003.

The sound of Mr. Libby’s disembodied voice in the courtroom vividly underlined the contrast between his sworn account and the testimony of the parade of prosecution witnesses presented to the jury over the last two weeks.

Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with lying to that grand jury and to F.B.I. agents who were investigating the leak to reporters of the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson.

The jury today listened to 90 minutes of Mr. Libby’s grand jury testimony from March 5, 2004, in which he was questioned in a straightforward, almost friendly manner by the chief prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Mr. Libby was heard responding in unstuffy and earnest tones, as if he were sometimes straining to remember correctly.

On the tape, Mr. Libby was heard saying repeatedly that he could not recall any conversation he ever had with Marc Grossman, a senior state department official, about Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Grossman, who was then the undersecretary of state, has already testified about two such conversations. Mr. Grossman told the jury that Mr. Libby anxiously asked him that summer about reports that a former ambassador had traveled to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium there for his nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Grossman recounted in detail his conversations with Mr. Libby, even noting that one occurred just outside the White House situation room following a meeting of senior officials.

Mr. Grossman told the jury that he had reported back to Mr. Libby at their second meeting that the former ambassador was Joseph C. Wilson IV, and that he had been sent to Africa by the Central Intelligence Agency. He also told Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and appeared to have had a major role in choosing him for the assignment.

The audio tapes, which were played with a synchronized running transcript on television screens in the courtroom, seemed to hold the attention of the jurors, who also followed the dialogue printed in loose-leaf binders.

Tapes played today were only the first part of what is to be a total of eight hours that the jury will hear.

Judge Reggie B. Walton, concerned that the evidence could put jurors to sleep, warned the jurors to ask for a break if anyone’s attention is flagging.

As the tapes were played, Mr. Libby himself sat mostly motionless and expressionless.

Judge Walton denied a defense motion arguing that the tapes should not be given to the news media to play to the public. The entire eight hours will be released after the jury has heard all the tapes.

The remaining grand jury testimony, which will include Mr. Libby’s second appearance on March 24, 2004, is certain to include denials from Mr. Libby about conversations with other officials who have already testified that they spoke with him about Ms. Wilson. Before recessing for the day, the jury heard some of a recording in which Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he had not talked to one of those officials, Robert Grenier of the C.I.A. about Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Grenier has already testified in detail about his conversation with Mr. Libby about Ms. Wilson.

Ms. Wilson’s name was first disclosed in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert Novak, only days after The New York Times published an op-ed article written by Mr. Wilson asserting that the Bush administration had willfully distorted intelligence about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium in the African nation of Niger.

To demonstrate that Mr. Libby lied to the F.B.I. as well, which is charged in the indictment, prosecutors put Deborah S. Bond, an agent, on the stand. Ms. Bond, who was present at the two interviews of Mr. Libby in his Old Executive Office Building office in October and November of 2003 completed her testimony today but acknowledged she may have testified incorrectly last Thursday.

Theodore V. Wells Jr., Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, was magnanimous with a purpose, when he pointed out her error over a conversation between Mr. Libby and Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff.

“I can’t believe I said it,” Ms. Bond said when shown last week’s testimony. Mr. Wells then prodded her to say that she must have answered in good faith but simply forgot, a proposition to which she readily agreed.

It was a reminder to the jury that one of the pillars of Mr. Libby’s defense is that if he spoke inaccurately to the grand jury and investigators, it was only a case of faulty memory.