Always bearing in mind that so far only the government has presented in U.S. v. Libby – the defense will begin next week, probably Wednesday or so – the government’s chronology of events looks pretty solid to date.
Today Deborah Bond, now the FBI case agent for the CIA leak matter, recounted in low-key and organized point-by-point responses under government questioning how Libby responded to questions in his first FBI interview, on October 12, 2003.
Shorn of editorializing and condensed for brevity, here was the substance of Libby’s statement to the FBI:
• Libby said that he had learned that Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA in a telephone conversation with Vice President Cheney on or about June 12, 2003;
• He said the call had been made in reference to an upcoming newspaper article by WashPost reporter Walter Pincus;
• Libby said that he later forgot he had been told this information by the VP;
• He said he recalled this item only when he found the note of this phone call with the date 06-12-03 inserted on it by him;
• Libby also stated that he did not know the name Joe Wilson at that time.
• He also stated that he had learned of an envoy to Africa from an earlier NYTimes column by Nicholas Kristof.
In regard to his contacts with the news media during the period in question,
• Libby said he met with Judith Miller at the St. Regis Hotel on July 8, 2003;
• He said the VP wanted him to make the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] on Iraq WMDs public;
• He said that he went to consult with government attorney David Addington on declassifying information and then discussed the NIE with Miller.
• Libby stated that he did not recall discussing Wilson’s wife with Miller;
• He stated that at that time he had no knowledge of Wilson’s wife;
• He stated that he also got in touch with Tim Russert, about July 10 or July 11, complaining about how Chris Matthews’s Hardball had boosted Wilson’s commentary;
• Libby stated that Tim Russert mentioned to him that Wilson’s wife was in the CIA, asked him whether he knew that;
• Libby stated that he was surprised, that was the first time he had heard that, and that Russert said that all the reporters knew.
• Libby said he spoke with Karl Rove on July 11;
• He said that Rove had spoken with Robert Novak, who had seen Wilson and wasn’t very impressed with him and planned to write a column about him;
• He stated that Rove learned from Novak that Wilson’s wife was in the CIA.
• Libby said he soon after spoke with Matthew Cooper of Time;
• He stated that Cooper asked why the VP had sent Wilson to Niger;
• Libby stated that he left a message for Evan Thomas but was unable to reach him;
• He tried to get WashPost reporter Glenn Kessler on the phone but Kessler was at the zoo at the time (Libby reached Kessler later);
• He said that he spoke with Andrea Mitchell;
• Libby stated that he did not tell Mitchell that Tim Russert knew about Wilson’s wife working for the CIA because Russert was Mitchell’s boss and it would have been awkward.
Libby’s second FBI interview was conducted on November 26, 2003 – same place (Libby’s office), same personnel, and mostly the same material, Bond testified. Among other items, the second FBI interview noted:
• Libby stated on July 7, 2003, he had lunch with Ari Fleischer;
• He said again that in his July 8 discussion with Judith Miller, he did not recall the issue of Wilson’s wife and the CIA arising;
• He could not recall whether the conversation with Tim Russert was on July 10 or July 11 but it might have been two conversations with Russert, on both days.
It is difficult to keep material like this from dragging on tediously. Clearly, the pattern of events that leaps to the eye is that Libby during this period was doing intensive media contact. Libby also stated to the FBI that contacting the news media was not what he usually did.
The overall point of these contacts, as Libby told the FBI, had to do with the fact that “the office of the Vice President did not send Joe Wilson to Niger.”
Setting aside the court case for the moment, this is the line being pushed by the administration itself – which insisted for months that Wilson was falsely claiming to have been sent to Africa by the Vice President, and complained that the press was picking up the same canard.
That line is worth thinking about. More on it later.