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'Startling moment' at Libby trial as President Bush is referenced

David Edwards
Published: Tuesday February 6, 2007
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Last night on MSNBC's Countdown, correspondent David Shuster provided a breakdown of Monday's events at the trial of former White House aide I. Lewis Libby.

One "very startling moment" occurred when a tape of Libby's grand jury testimony included references to President George Bush.

"There was one other very startling moment, referring to President Bush, in Scooter Libby‘s Grand Jury testimony on audiotape. Libby noted on a piece of paper a notation, and prosecutors asked whether the notation shows that President Bush was interested in the Kristof article on the State of the Union," Shuster said. "It was a Kristof article in May of 2003 which first got the White House thinking about Ambassador Wilson, because it talked about an ambassador‘s trip, which essentially undercut the State of the Union speech."

Shuster continued, "Libby was asked about the president‘s interest and he said, yes, that‘s what my notes signals, but Libby then went on to testify he never discussed the president‘s interest with the vice president, nor did Libby speak about it with President Bush. He went on to testify that he only heard about the president‘s interest from a senior staff meeting. Of course, we don‘t know if Libby was telling the truth, but it was certainly a tantalizing bit of testimony."

Liveblogging the trial at firedoglake, Swopa notes that Bush's name came up again today during playback of Libby's grand jury testimony.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked Libby in March of 2004, referring to a note from a conversation about a statement on Ambassador Joe Wilson made by former CIA Director George Tenet, "Does this say, 'The president is comfortable?'"

"Yes," Libby replied, according to Swopa's unofficial transcript.

"And the next line," Fitzgerald continued.

Libby replied that it was Stephen Hadley, Deputy National Security Advisor at the time, saying that the NIE, a report on Iraq's purported WMD program, should be "leaked."

"Did anyone say it was OK to leak the NIE that week?" Fitzgerald asked.

"I had already talked to Judith Miller, with the President's approval," Libby responded, referring to the former New York Times reporter who spent close to three months in jail for refusing to name the former White House aide as a source.

Video clip from MSNBC broadcast:

Excerpts from MSNBC transcipt:

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STEWART: For the first time today, a federal jury heard from Vice President Cheney‘s former right hand man, Lewis Scooter Libby, in his own words. On tapes, Libby said it was none other than Mr. Cheney himself who first told Libby that the wife of ambassador Joe Wilson was a CIA operative. Wilson, of course, is the man who publicly questioned the administration‘s justification for war in Iraq.

And that‘s not all Libby said. It‘s an eight hour tape of his 2004 Grand Jury testimony. Our number three story tonight, part of Libby‘s ongoing trial on charges he lied to cover up the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson‘s identity. More of the tape will be played in court tomorrow, after which the entire tape will be released to the public.

Libby‘s lawyers had fought against the release, but the judge ruled that all eight hours, audio tape only, can and will be made public despite his reservations that the tapes might just end up on TV. You think? We‘ll get to those first revelations in a moment.

But earlier in the day, Libby‘s lawyers tried to show the jury that anyone can make a mistake in testimony, pressing FBI agent Debra Bond on differences between her notes and her verbal accounts of Libby‘s statements to investigators. Covering the trial today, as he has since the start, is MSNBC‘s David Shuster.

David, we still don‘t know whether Libby will testify at trial, but in court today, what did you and the jury hear from those tapes?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Alison, it was very interesting. Among other things, we heard Scooter Libby testify about a conversation that he had with Vice President Cheney in June of 2003. This was a conversation where Scooter Libby wrote notes to himself about the phone conversation and then these notes were turned over to investigators.

And on the notes Libby indicates that Vice President Cheney told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA in the counter proliferation division. Libby was asked by prosecutors then, during the Grand Jury, if this was the first time, June of 2003, that he learned about Valerie Wilson and Libby said, yes.

Libby was then asked about other government officials, where there are no Libby notes of his conversations. These are officials who have already testified in the case that they had a discussion with Scooter Libby about Valerie Wilson, also in June of 2003. When Libby was asked about those conversations, he kept repeating in a very soft voice, I do not recall.

The defense wants the jury to believe that Libby forgot about all of these June conversations so thoroughly that when he spoke with Tim Russert in July, and learned from Russert, according to Libby, about Valerie Wilson, even though Russert denies that, that somehow Libby was surprised to learn about Valerie Wilson.

The defense is also trying to show that Scooter Libby can‘t remember any previous discussions about Valerie Wilson except for the one involving Vice President Cheney, which is of course the only conversation where there is actual physical testimony from Scooter Libby and that is his own handwritten notes. That‘s how difficult the challenge is for the defense in this case.

There was one other very startling moment, referring to President Bush, in Scooter Libby‘s Grand Jury testimony on audiotape, Libby noted on a piece of paper, a notation, and prosecutors asked whether the notation shows that President Bush was interested in the Kristof article in the State of the Union. It was a Kristof article in May of 2003 which first got the White House thinking about Ambassador Wilson, because it talked about an ambassador‘s trip, which essentially undercut the State of the Union speech.

Libby was asked about the president‘s interest and he said, yes, that‘s what my notes signals, but Libby then went on to testify he never discussed the president‘s interest with the vice president, nor did Libby speak about it with President Bush. He went on to testify that he only heard about the president‘s interest from a senior staff meeting. Of course, we don‘t know if Libby was telling the truth, but it was certainly a tantalizing bit of testimony.

STEWART: This morning Libby‘s lawyers had FBI agent Debra Bond on the defensive, suggesting the differences between her notes and her testimony were analogous to the differences in Libby‘s situation. Can you flesh that out for us?

SHUSTER: Yes, Debra Bond was one of the first FBI agents who spoke to Libby when the criminal investigation and the CIA leak began. And she summarized in this trial Libby‘s statements to the FBI before Libby actually testified to the Grand Jury. And Bond testified last week, on direct, that Libby, quote, adamantly denied telling White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer anything about Valerie Wilson before Valerie Wilson was outed.

But under cross-examination today, by the defense, Bond acknowledged that the words adamantly denied were her characterization, and that Libby never used those words, but rather that Libby actually said he couldn‘t recall discussing Valerie Wilson with Ari Fleischer. It is a difference, so give the defense some credit, but again these are differences over shades of gray. This is not a blockbuster contradiction perhaps that the defense had been hoping for, Alison.

STEWART: OK, that was today. Let‘s look forward to tomorrow. Tell us what we‘re looking to.

SHUSTER: Yes, tomorrow we‘ll be looking for six and a half hours of Grand Jury audiotapes, in which there are three criminal counts against Scooter Libby, which are related to these sections of his Grand Jury testimony.

The first, of course, is Libby‘s testimony under oath that he only first learned about Valerie Wilson from NBC‘s Tim Russert, even though Tim Russert denies that, and also, even though Scooter Libby had already learned about Valerie Wilson a month earlier from Vice President Cheney, according to his own testimony.

The second crucial chunk of Libby‘s Grand Jury testimony involves a conversation with “Time Magazine‘s” Matt Cooper. Libby denied that he provided confirmation to Cooper about Valerie Wilson, even though Matt Cooper testified that Libby did provide that confirmation.

And then the third thing that we‘re watching for, that could be really dramatic, Alison, and that is: there has been a lot of testimony about a conversation that Libby and Vice President Cheney had on June 12, 2003. Again this is just a couple days before Valerie Wilson was outed. We‘re looking to see what the testimony is from Scooter Libby about that conversation, what did the vice president say to him, because there has already been some evidence suggesting that Libby and Vice President Cheney may have actually talked about leaking Valerie Wilson‘s identity to reporters.

So we‘ll be watching for that as well.

STEWART: David Shuster, thanks for all the details.

SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.

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