Novak testifies in Libby trial

[Editor and Publisher]

After a long weekend off, the defense took the field this morning and attempted to hold the line against the prosecution in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in Washington, D.C. The witness list remains in flux, and could include Libby himself and Vice President Cheney -- or maybe not.

But by late morning, Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post had taken the stand, followed by David Sanger of The New York Times. Pincus said that Libby did not leak Valerie Plame's identity -- but Ari Fleischer did. Then Robert Novak took the stand just after lunch. He named Karl Rove and Richard Armitage as the two sources for his famous "outing" column.

Novak said Armitage, a key State Dept. official, was his primary source and Rove only a "confirming" source. On July 8, 2003, Armitage referred to former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife as "Valerie" and Novak then looked up his name in Who's Who to determine that he last name seemed to be Plame.

He also said that he had no idea she was covert and called her an "operative" in his column probably because he was so used to using that term in relation to "political operatives." He talked to Libby around the same day and Libby did not mention Plame, Novak said.

The defense asked when he finished the Plame column and Novak answered around noon on July 11, 2003. He was then asked how quickly it is sent out by his syndicate and he said, pretty much right away. The defense is clearly suggesting that it could have been published or at least seen by someone before its July 14, 2003, publication date.

Novak said it was embargoed until the 14th but it's possible someone could have seen it come off the wire in a media office before then.

Then, in what could be a key (and hotly contested) new bit of information, Novak said he had quickly shared the column (pre-publication) with a lobbyist friend named Rick Hohlt. Novak thinks Hohlt told him later that he had mentioned to a White House contact at that time that a very interesting article would be appearing very soon.

He also described how he came to talk to the grand jury about all this. He said he refused to offer up the sources in a first meeting, but after getting waivers -- when it was clear that the prosecution knew who they were -- he then named Rove and Armitage.

After cross-examination, yet another reporter followed Novak to the stand -- Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post.

He was asked about talking to Libby in July 2003, leading to one of the most entertaining moments of the trial: Kessler said he had taken the call from Libby while in the elephant house at the zoo, where he had taken his children. This, he said, helped make the chat memorable. Yes, he was able to focus on that call, but he did have to tell his 10- year-old son to watch the others and keep them from harm....

In any case, Plame did not come up in that call, he said.

Quickly, Evan Thomas of Newsweek appeared on the stand, and almost as quickly he was gone, after stating that he too had talked to Libby in this time-frame and Libby had not leaked Plame's name.

As in past days, we will return regularly all day with updates from the courthouse, supplied by the extremely accurate (so far) postings at FireDogLake.org and other Web/wire reports as they appear.

EARLIER TODAY

The morning began with Libby lawyer Ted Wells arguing with the judge to allow the testimony of NBC's Andrea Mitchell. That remained unresolved. Wells also announced that Robert Novak, who first outed Plame in the press, will appear shortly -- "in a few hours," he said.

Then Walter Pincus, the veteran reporter for The Washington Post, was called to the stand. He had conversations with Libby in 2003 and received an early waiver from Libby to testify.

Pincus testified that he talked to Libby about Joe Wilson's trip to Africa in early June 2003, and Libby did not mention Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who worked at the CIA. Asked when he did learn about her, Pincus said it came in a phone chat with Press Secretary Ari Fleischer about a month later, on July 12, 2003.

Fleischer testified earlier in the trial that he mentioned Plame to two reporters--John Dickerson, then of Time Magazine, and David Gregory of NBC News--during a trip that President Bush took to Africa at that time, and did not mention Pincus. He also said that Libby had told him about Plame during a lunch they shared in early July.

After cross-examination, it became clear that another Post reporter, Bob Woodward, would be next. But first the lawyers argued about a tape of Woodward's interview with State Department official Armitage being played. Woodward has said he learned about Plame from Armitage.

Woodward took the stand just after 11 a.m. and the first questions concerned his conversaton with Libby on June 27, 2003. But Woodward said he had first heard about the Wilson/Plame connection on June 13 from Armitage. A tape of their conversation was then played, in which Armitage says Plame is a CIA analyst but not the chief of the counter-proliferation program.

The tape has been cleaned up to remove obscenties. At one point, referring to Wilson's wife being at the agency, Armitage says, "How about that [obscenity removed]?" Woodward said Armitage did not say she was covert.

He later talked to top Bush aide Andrew Card and did not bring up Plame with him, he testified.

Then cross-examination began. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald clarified that when Woodward heard about Plame from Armitage it was news to him. The cross ended just before noon with the likely next up: David Sanger, chief Washington reporter for The New York Times.

Sanger was immediately questioned about an early July 2003 talk with Libby. He said that Libby did not mention Plame. This is the defense's way of showing that he was not blabbing about her to everyone, or perhaps, anyone.

Afte a lunch break, Robert Novak -- the man who, in a sense, started it all -- took the stand, and was asked right away about how he learned about Plame in July 2003. He said it began, in the second week of July that year, after he served on a TV roundtable with Wilson, which got him interested in the whole story.

article originally published at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey