As jurors in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby spent Tuesday listening to audiotapes of Libby’s two appearances in 2004 before the grand jury investigating the CIA leak, a possible killer moment occurred. It came when Libby, describing a conversation he had with reporter Matt Cooper, then of Time, on July 12, 2003 (two days before Valerie Wilson was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column), told the grand jury:
And I said [to Cooper], reporters are telling us that [former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife works at the CIA], I don’t know if it’s true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn’t know Mr. Wilson. I don’t know – I think I said, I don’t know if he has a wife, but this is what we’re hearing.
I don’t know if he has a wife–that’s what the man said under oath.
By the time the jurors heard this part of the tape, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had presented as witnesses five past or present Bush administration officials and one journalist who each testified that he or she discussed Wilson’s wife with Libby prior to Libby’s phone call with Cooper. An additional witness–Vice President Dick Cheney’s current chief of staff, David Addington–testified that Libby had asked him about the paperwork the CIA would keep if an officer had sent a spouse on a trip. And a Libby note from early June 2003, introduced as evidence by both the prosecution and the defense, indicates that Cheney told Libby, his chief of staff at the time, that Wilson’s wife was employed at the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency’s clandestine operations directorate.
Yet now jurors could hear Libby claiming to the grand jury that at the time of the Libby-Cooper phone call–six days after Joseph Wilson had published an op-ed saying he had inside information showing the White House and Cheney’s office had twisted the prewar intelligence–he (Libby) had no idea that Wilson was married, let alone that he knew the missus was a CIA employee.
Could Libby really have been telling the truth?
By playing the audiotapes, Fitzgerald placed the jurors in the position he was in when he grilled Libby before the grand jury. At that point, he already had testimony from witnesses who maintained they had told Libby or heard from him about Wilson’s wife prior to the leak. Yet when Libby appeared before the grand jury, he told a convoluted tale. In essence, he claimed that he had been struck by amnesia–a rather selective case of amnesia.
Before the grand jury, Libby conceded that sometime before June 12, 2003, Cheney told him that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. (This happened during a period when Libby and Cheney were concerned about a Washington Post reporter who was looking into a story about an unnamed former envoy who had gone to Niger for the CIA and returned with information that the ex-envoy believed disproved part of the administration’s case for war.) But Libby claimed that he had totally–and he meant totally–forgotten all about the wife when on July 10 or 11, 2003, Meet the Press host Tim Russert told him that “all the reporters” knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Before the grand jury, Libby repeatedly said he was “surprised” by the information he received from Russert. He said he felt he was learning it “anew” and was “taken aback.” He was not unsure on this point: “I have a specific recollection I was surprised.”