Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter, has blown a big hole in the case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, convicted of lying to avoid blame for outing a CIA agent. Miller was a key witness in Libby’s trial, but in her new book she has repudiated her testimony.
Libby was “railroaded in his conviction” by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, she said in an interview on Fox News yesterday.
In her book, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey, she writes that Fitzgerald cajoled her into testifying in 2007 that Libby had told her Valerie Plame, the wife of a critic of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, was a CIA officer. This undermined Libby’s own testimony and contributed significantly to his conviction for obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury.
“I was the only reporter to state that Libby had discussed Wilson’s wife,” Miller writes. Wilson, a retired diplomat, had been sent at his wife’s suggestion to Niger to find if Iraq officials had sought to buy uranium there. Wilson said they hadn’t, thus disputing what Bush had said in his 2003 State of the Union Address.
“So my testimony, Fitzgerald said in his closing arguments, was crucial to the case against Libby,” according to Miller. “It was also crucial to Fitzgerald’s assertion that the vice president had been involved, since Libby had told the grand jury that [Dick] Cheney had approved his suggestion that he discuss the intelligence estimate about Iraq and WMD with me.”
Cheney was Fitzgerald’s real prey. Joe Tate, one of Libby’s lawyers, told her Fitzgerald had twice offered to drop all charges against Libby if he would “deliver” Cheney to the prosecutor. Libby, who was Cheney’s chief of staff, declined. He insisted Cheney had done nothing wrong, so there was nothing to deliver.
Quoting Tate, Miller said Fitzgerald had moved on from the original purpose of his investigation: to track down who had outed Plame. Fitzgerald already knew it was Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, who had told columnist Robert Novak. It is illegal to identify a CIA agent publicly. Neither Armitage nor anyone else was charged with outing Plame.
Fitzgerald’s team “needed a scalp and were flyspecking Libby’s FBI interviews and grand jury appearances,” Tate told Miller. When Tate met with Fitzgerald, he asked, “Why are you doing this?” The prosecutor’s reply, Tate told Miller: “Unless you can deliver someone higher up – the vice president – I’m going forth with the indictment” of Libby.
Despite Libby’s refusal, Fitzgerald went on to attack Cheney in his closing argument. “There is a cloud over the vice president,” he said. “And that cloud remains because this defendant [Libby] obstructed justice.”
In another action that proved to be critical, Fitzgerald refused to give Libby’s lawyers the employment history of Plame, including her State Department cover. Without that, Miller writes, she believes she misinterpreted an item in her notes taken while talking to Libby in 2003. The item: “(wife works in Bureau?)”.
Miller spent 85 days in jail after refusing to identify her sources while reporting on the Plame case. However, she never wrote a story about her conversations with Libby. While preparing her to testify, Miller writes, Fitzgerald pumped her about what “Bureau” referred to. Was it the FBI? She said no. Finally, she came to believe the passage meant Libby had mentioned Plame’s job at the CIA. “Bureau” referred the State Department branch used as her cover.
Miller began to doubt all this when she read Plame’s book. “My testimony, though sworn honestly, might have been wrong,” she writes. Then last year, she read a book by the CIA’s general counsel for 30 years, John Rizzo. “Dozens, if not hundreds of people in Washington” knew Plame was employed at the CIA, he wrote. Also, he disclosed the CIA had done a damage assessment of the leak of her CIA tie and had found no evidence of harm, including to “Plame herself.”
After the trial in 2007, Miller learned Libby had been told by Cheney of Plame’s CIA job. Reviewing her notebooks on her talks with Libby, “my heart sank. … What if my testimony about events four years earlier had been wrong? Had I misconstrued my notes? Had Fitzgerald’s questions about whether my use of the word Bureau meant the FBI steered me in the wrong direction.”