January 31, 2007
The Devil Is in the Details at Libby's Trial
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald opened the prosecution's case-in-chief with five high-level government witnesses, including former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who each testified to having given I. Lewis Libby at least some information about Valerie Plame's role as a CIA operative. The trial has now switched to the media witnesses, beginning with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who testified that Libby first spoke to her about Plame on June 23, 2003 -- the twenty-first anniversary of the famous "smoking gun" conversation between President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman about covering up the Watergate break-in. As with the earlier witnesses, Miller had some recall problems in her earlier grand jury testimony when she did not mention this meeting with Libby the first time she testified. According to an AP story (here), Libby's counsel, William Jeffress, asked Miller about her inability to recall the meeting until reviewing her notes, and she responded that "it's really easy to forget details of a story you're not writing." How she could have missed this "detail" entirely, at least for a time, is a bit mystifying, if you will, given that Miller spent 85 days in jail for civil contempt for refusing to testify about her discussions with a secret source who turned out to be Libby.
Like so much in this trial, it is the details of the story that will tell the tale, and Miller palming off a lapse of memory like this may not play well with the jury. Nevertheless, the drumbeat of witnesses from inside the Administration and in the media saying the same basic thing, that Libby told (or questioned) them about Plame's CIA status, will make it difficult to mount successfully a "gosh, it must have slipped my mind when I spoke with the FBI and testified before the grand jury" defense. The case remains a credibility battle, and the stakes will go up with each additional witness who says Libby raised the issue of Plame's role at the CIA first. (ph)
UPDATE: For an interesting first-hand perspective on Miller's testimony, including an issue related to questioning her about confidential sources, check Jeralyn Merritt's thorough post on TalkLeft (here).
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