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Libby Prosecutors Close to Resting Perjury Case

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Next week the prosecution is expected to rest in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of the vice president's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby.

NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has been covering the trial and joins us. Nina, thanks for being with us.

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NINA TOTENBERG: My pleasure.

SIMON: The end of the prosecution's case is in sight. How is it proceeding?

TOTENBERG: Well, it's been a pretty smooth and linear case. The prosecutors has put on six witnesses from the White House itself, from the CIA and the State Department, all of whom contradicted Scooter Libby's account of events.

Libby's story, remember, is that when he was interviewed by the FBI twice, and then when he testified twice before the grand jury, he didn't lie. He didn't intentional give false testimony. Rather, if it was false, he simply misremembered events.

Well, now we've seen this parade of witnesses testify that the vice president's office, and Libby, as its head staff guy, they were crazed in the summer of 2003 when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson accused them of twisting intelligence. So all these witnesses are describing how Libby was asking all about Joseph Wilson, looking for information to rebut Wilson's charges and to discredit him. And over and over again, Libby is told that Wilson's wife works for the CIA. Then, when there's a criminal investigation of how her name was leaked to the press, well, you can see that Libby is worried.

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SIMON: And talking about press leaks, of course this was the week that former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper took the stand.

TOTENBERG: Yes, and both of them testified that Libby told them about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity. Miller, in fact, testified that she had detailed conversations with Libby about Mrs. Wilson's role some two weeks before Ambassador Wilson went public with his criticisms. There was an important little nugget of testimony this week from David Addington. Addington's known in Washington as Cheney's Cheney. He used to work for the CIA, and he said that at the end of 2003, Libby asked him how you would know if someone was a covert agent. And Addington said he told Libby, you wouldn't know unless you were told, and he gave Libby a copy of the statute that makes it a crime to knowingly divulge the identity of a CIA covert agent. Then it's the prosecution's theory that Libby, fearing that he might be in legal jeopardy, or at least that he would be fired for leaking, then constructed a phony story that he had learned of Mrs. Wilson's identity not from government sources, but from reporters.

SIMON: Nina, the veil has been lifted in some portions of this trial, both on the operations daily of the White House, and for that matter journalism. Do you have favorite item that came out?

TOTENBERG: My favorite piece of dirty laundry, as it were - and I guess it's dirty about everybody - took place the day that Libby talked to Tim Russert of NBC. He said he first learned about Valerie Wilson's identity from Tim Russert. But earlier in the day, he's desperately trying to rebut these Wilson allegations and he calls up Mary Madeleine, who is on the inside circle of the Cheney operation, and to get ideas for strategy. And he's a compulsive note-taker. And he writes down everything she says. And she says - she says this story has legs. You've got to get our story out. She says call Tim, meaning Tim Russert. He hates Chris, meaning Chris Matthews, because there were a lot of complaints about what Chris Matthews was saying on his program. Then he writes down, quoting Madeleine, Wilson is a snake.

SIMON: Okay. Thanks very much. NPR's Nina Totenberg.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.