Washington is like high school.
That seemed true at the Scooter Libby trial on Wednesday when the prosecution and the defense argued whether notes written by Libby on July 10, 2003, could be fully introduced as evidence. The notes covered a conversation between Libby, who was then Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist and Cheney adviser. Libby had called Matalin seeking advice on how to deal with the firestorm of the week: former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s charge that he had inside information proving the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence.
Wilson’s criticism had come at a time when questions were being raised about the reference in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech to the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Africa. According to the notes, Matalin told Libby that Wilson’s charge was fitting into the “Democratic story on the Hill” and that the “story is not going away.” The notes say, “We need to address the Wilson motivation.” Matalin suggested that Libby call Meet the Press host Tim Russert. “He hates Chris,” the notes say, in a reference to Hardball host Chris Matthews, who had been promoting Wilson’s accusations on the air and slamming Libby by name. On the same page, Libby wrote, “Wilson is a snake.”
This is how the nation’s capital works. A scandal erupts, and the spinners go into damage control and try to manipulate the press however they can. In this instance, Matalin apparently believed Cheney’s office could play Russert against Matthews.
It was unclear how much of this note federal district court Judge Reggie Walton will allow into evidence. The snake comment, he said, was prejudicial. But the line about Wilson’s motivation could be relevant to assessing Libby’s state of mind during that wild week. It could be interpreted to mean: let’s undermine Wilson not on the merits of his argument but on what might have led to his trip–including his wife’s employment at the CIA.
The fight over this document was a small part of the day. The major drama came when Matt Cooper, formerly of Time magazine, was called as a witness. He and Libby spoke on July 12, 2003–six days after Wilson had published an op-ed blasting the White House and two days before Wilson’s wife was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column. During the subsequent CIA leak investigation, Libby told the FBI and a grand jury that he had said to Cooper that various journalists were telling the administration that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA but that he (Libby) didn’t know if this was true. Libby testified to the grand jury that he told Cooper that all he knew about Valerie Wilson “was what reporters are telling us” and that “among other things, I didn’t know [Wilson] had a wife.”