On Thursday, the Vice President’s office was on the stand in the Scooter Libby trial-sort of. The fourth witness to be called by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was Cathie Martin, who during the CIA leak scandal, was Dick Cheney’s senior public affairs aide. Currently deputy director of communications and planning at the White House, Martin was a poised and confident witness; she was hardly looking to help the prosecution nail her former colleague. Yet she testified that she had told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA weeks before that information was leaked–reinforcing Fitzgerald’s accusation that Libby lied to the FBI and a grand jury when he claimed that he possessed no direct knowledge of Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment at the time of the leak.
Martin described a conversation she had with William Harlow, the CIA public affairs chief, and though she had no direct recollection of when this phone call happened, she noted it likely occurred around June 11, 2003. At that time, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post was asking Vice President Cheney’s office whether it had been involved in former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (which had been cited in a May 6 New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof that did not name Wilson). Martin testified that as the result of a call between Scooter Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, and a CIA official (probably Robert Grenier, an earlier witness in the trial), she had been put in contact with Harlow.
During her conversation with Harlow, Martin testified, she asked him what the CIA knew about the trip to Niger taken by the then-unnamed ambassador. Harlow told her the former diplomat was Joseph Wilson and revealed that his wife worked at the CIA. Later that same day, in the vice president’s office, she shared with Cheney and Libby what Harlow had told her, including the information that Wilson’s wife was employed at the CIA. How did Cheney or Libby respond to this? Fitzgerald asked Martin. “I don’t remember any other specific response,” she answered.
The significance of this? Fitzgerald had shown once again that Libby was making efforts to gather information on the Wilson trip when little was publicly known about it. As a result of this effort, he was told by Martin that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Ted Wells, a Libby lawyer, tried to depict Martin’s report to Cheney and Libby as nothing but an easy-to-forget ten-second snippet. But Martin also testified that Libby was intensely engaged in a campaign to rebut Joseph Wilson’s charge that the Bush administration had rigged the case for war by misrepresenting the prewar intelligence–and that Libby had even requested to see transcripts of cable news shows covering the controversy (particularly Chris Matthews’ Hardball program). Consequently, a juror could well conclude that information regarding Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment was important to Libby and registered with him.