Agent acknowledges gaps in Libby notes
WASHINGTON (AP) — An FBI agent acknowledged Monday that some of her testimony could not be backed up by notes, an admission that attorneys for former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby seized on in an effort to undercut perjury and obstruction charges.
Agent Deborah Bond testified last week that, in his FBI interview Libby adamantly denied discussing a CIA operative’s identity with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Under cross-examination Monday, however, Bond conceded that FBI notes contain no record of such a denial. Rather, they say he may have discussed it but couldn’t recall.
“Adamantly might not be the perfect word,” Bond said.
Libby is charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI in an indictment that focuses in part on his statements to a federal grand jury investigating the leak of the CIA identity of Valerie Plame. Libby says any misstatements he made were because of memory flaws.
Defense attorney Theodore Wells highlighted that message for jurors during Bond’s cross-examination. Bond said she misspoke during last week’s testimony and wanted to correct a statement.
“People make mistakes, don’t they?” Wells said.
“Sometimes,” Bond replied.
Bond was to continue testifying Monday afternoon. Following her testimony, prosecutors planned to play audio recordings of Libby’s secret grand jury testimony.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled Monday morning that those tapes must be made public. In a victory for the news media, the judge said he had little choice under the law as applied in the federal court system in Washington, D.C, even though Walton also said he has concerns about releasing the recordings while the case is under way.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald successfully fought to enter the tapes into evidence, and he planned to play about eight hours of Libby’s closed-door testimony.
Although segments of Libby’s testimony would be widely distributed by reporters who are monitoring the trial, Libby’s lawyers had argued that the audio itself was too sensitive to be released until the trial ends.
One of Libby’s lawyers, William Jeffress, said that playing sound bites of the defendant’s grand jury appearances in a public setting “seriously threatens Mr. Libby’s right to a fair trial.”
From the news media’s perspective, “it’s great stuff,” Jeffress told the judge in asking that the recordings not be released during the trial.
Media attorney Nathan Siegel said publicly releasing the grand jury recordings during the trial is hardly “some novel proposition.”
Siegel, representing The Associated Press and more than a dozen other news organizations, argued that Libby’s own words are far less prejudicial than evidence that has been released in other cases, including 911 calls from inside the World Trade Center, the FBI tapes in the Abscam investigation and mob wiretap tapes.
Jeffress argued that the news media will undoubtedly issue commentary to accompany any excerpts it plays from the audio recordings of Libby’s grand jury testimony.
Libby’s lawyer pointed to the potential for jurors to be exposed to the recordings outside the courtroom, since they are away from the court three days a week and ride back and forth to the courthouse.
“I have my concerns,” Walton said, adding that cases in the federal judicial circuit covering Washington, D.C., point to disclosure of the material rather than waiting until the trial is over.
Libby is charged with lying to the grand jury about how he found about the CIA identity of the wife of Bush administration critic Joe Wilson and what Libby told reporters about Wilson’s wife.
The tapes would almost certainly be played on television, radio and the Internet.
In the tapes, Libby discusses conversations he had regarding Plame, whose identity was leaked to reporters in 2003.
Nobody was charged with the leak. Fitzgerald said that Libby learned Plame’s identity from his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, and discussed it with journalists. Libby says he forgot about his conversation with Cheney and, when he heard about Plame from NBC reporter Tim Russert weeks later, it struck him as new information.
Fitzgerald says Libby concocted that story to protect himself from prosecution because repeating rumors from reporters is less serious than repeating sensitive information from Cheney.
The tapes are expected to take up much of Monday and part of Tuesday. Russert is scheduled to be Fitzgerald’s last witness, most likely late Tuesday.