Reporter: Libby said Plame worked at CIA


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 10:40 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Reporter Matt Cooper testified Wednesday he thought I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had confirmed that a prominent war critic's wife worked at the CIA but acknowledged he never asked the White House aide where he'd heard that.

Cooper, Time magazine's White House reporter at the time, became the second reporter to testify at the CIA leak trial that Libby was a source for their learning that Valerie Plame, wife of ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a CIA operative. Libby claims he only told reporters he had heard that information from other reporters.

Libby, ex-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is on trial on charges he lied to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters about Plame and obstructed the investigation into how her identity leaked to the public in 2003. He is not charged with the actual leak.

Cooper's appearance allowed defense attorney William Jeffress to ask repeatedly about President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, because Cooper identified Rove as the first official to tell him about Plame's job at CIA. Cooper said Rove told him that Wilson's wife, rather than Cheney, was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger in 2002.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson claimed in print and on television that what he learned on the trip debunked a report that Iraq was trying to buy uranium there for nuclear weapons. He said Cheney should have learned of his findings long before Bush's used the uranium story in his January 2003 State of Union speech as a justification for war with Iraq.

Defense attorney Theodore Wells claims the White House was trying in 2003 to blame Libby for the leak in order to protect Rove.

although Wells did not explain precisely how that related to the perjury charges against Libby.

Cooper recalled a July 12, 2003, telephone conversation in which he asked Libby whether Wilson's wife worked at CIA and was behind the Niger trip.

Cooper testified Wednesday that Libby responded, "Yeah, I've heard that too," or "Yeah, I've heard something like that, too."

Anticipating the defense attack, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked whether Libby said where he heard that.

"Not in any way," Cooper replied.

Did he say he heard it from other reporters?

"No," Cooper said.

Cooper also said he didn't take any notes on that exchange and that he had posed his question to Libby "off the record." Later Cooper said off the record information cannot be attributed to the person but can be used to go get the information from others.

Libby attorney Jeffress pounded on Cooper's acknowledgments and also drew the jury's attention to the extensive notes and memos to Time editors that Cooper produced after his talk with Rove.

Jeffress asked Cooper if he ever asked Libby where he'd heard about Wilson's wife.

"I did not," Cooper replied.

His voice dripping with disbelief, Jeffress asked Cooper how he could take his exchange with Libby as confirmation.

"I took it as confirmation," Cooper said.

"Why didn't you put it in your memo to your editors?" Jeffress asked.

"I can't explain that," Cooper replied. "It was late in the day. I didn't write it down, but it is my memory."

"If somebody tells you something off the record, do you take it as confirmation?" Jeffress asked incredulously.

"I did in this case," Cooper replied. "You can use it to go to others and get a more fulsome account" that can be printed.

Earlier Wednesday the first journalist to contradict Libby's version, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, acknowledged she could not be "absolutely, absolutely certain" that she first heard about Plame from Libby.

But she added, "I have no memory of a prior discussion with anyone else" and her notes do not reflect any prior discussion.

Miller testified she had two conversations about Plame with Libby well before Libby says he learned from another reporter that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.

Jeffress advised the judge the defense wants to call Times' managing editor Jill Abramson to rebut Miller. Abramson was Miller's bureau chief in Washington in 2003. Jeffress said he anticipated the newspaper would try to quash a subpoena for her appearance and the defense might need time to fight that battle in court.

Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Government exhibits: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln/osc/index.html

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