Former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Points Finger At Libby

0060747625.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgThe prosecution in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby featured a prominent witness yesterday to bolster its case: former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who testified with immunity protection:

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified yesterday that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby divulged Valerie Plame’s identity to him in July 2003, three days earlier than Libby has told investigators he first learned of the undercover CIA officer.

Fleischer’s narrative of Libby’s “hush-hush” disclosures over a lunch table in a White House dining room made President Bush’s former spokesman the most important prosecution witness to date in the week-old perjury trial of Vice President Cheney’s onetime chief of staff.

Does this mean the trial will now be more-noted by people representing diverse factions of the White House: Vice President Dick Cheney, George W. Bush or Karl Rove? MORE details from the Washington Post piece:

Though a series of government officials have told the jury that Libby eagerly sought information about a prominent critic of the Iraq war, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Fleischer was the first witness to say Libby then passed on what he learned: that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent him on a trip to Africa. Wilson’s mission there was to explore reports, ultimately proved false, that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material in Niger.

Fleischer, testifying under an immunity agreement with the prosecution, also made it clear that Libby had told him Wilson’s wife held a position in the CIA’s counterproliferation division, where most employees work in a covert capacity.

Newsday notes that Fleischer’s testimony sketched a portrait that went beyond the Plame affair:

Yesterday, Fleischer testified in federal court on what it was like behind the scenes in 2003 when a key part of Bush’s case for war disintegrated.

During more than three hours of testimony, Fleischer showed little of the unyielding discipline that defined his tenure as press secretary. He pointed fingers at a former colleague, acknowledged frustration at how powerless he often was to sway the media and described frantic efforts to contain a public relations debacle.

At one point Fleischer described the dismay he felt as it became increasingly clear that the White House no longer could back one of President George W. Bush’s most alarming remarks in his 2003 State of the Union speech – that Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Africa.

After initially clinging to the claim, Fleischer said he was told that the credibility of his previous statements on the matter was crumbling. “The worst place to stand as White House press secretary,” Fleischer said, “is when the ground is shifting.”

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff:

Ari Fleischer may turn out to be a stronger—and more credible—witness than he was a White House press secretary.

During several hours on the witness stand in the I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby Jr. perjury and obstruction trial Monday, President Bush’s former chief spokesman was cool, unruffled, chatty and at times combative—especially when he underwent hostile cross-examination from one of Libby’s lawyers. But he stuck to his story and, in the process, delivered what may have been the most damaging testimony yet against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

Meanwhile, John Dickerson, writing in Slate had one of the most interesting — and perhaps can-of-worms-opening — pieces on the testimony. It should be read in full but here’s a small part of it:

I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Your Honor, may I approach the bench?”

I was at the Scooter Libby trial to cover it, and all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the case. In his testimony today, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told the courtroom—which included me—that when I was a White House correspondent for Time magazine, he had told me that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.

He did?

Everyone had heard about Robert Novak, Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller, the reporters who had received the Valerie Plame leak. But now Ari was saying I was in that club, too.

I have a different memory. My recollection is that during a presidential trip to Africa in July 2003, Ari and another senior administration official had given me only hints. They told me to go inquire about who sent Wilson to Niger. As far as I can remember—and I am pretty sure I would remember it—neither of them ever told me that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. In a piece I wrote about a year ago, I figured that the very reason I’d never been subpoenaed in the case or questioned by any lawyers was that I’d been given only vague guidance and not the good stuff.

So, what to do now that I’d heard Ari’s testimony? Should I stand? Should I shout a question at Ari? Should I walk from the press section into the witness box? Call a press conference? Get a lawyer?

It’s clear that there are several levels at play in this news story. The first is the immediate issue of Libby Versus Plame. The second is the fact that the trial is providing a portrayal of the Bush administration at work, how it perceived and managed the national news media, how the national news media was open to it and easily-manipulated due to the thirst for reporters’ access to “get” interviews and “scoop” stories (released with political calculation) and the factions within the administration itself.

But the one certainty is this: it will not end in being a public relations bonanza for the Bush administration. The trial is bound to end with the administration winding up with another political black-eye in the short-term and suffer the real damage in the long-term — years from now, when historians sort through the history of the Bush administration, its assertions and the credibility thereof.

SOME OTHER VIEWPOINTS AND RESOURCES:

–Media Bloggers live blogging of the event.

Crooks and Liars’ Nicole Belle: “Looks like the immunity deal Fitzgerald made with Ari Fleischer is paying off.”

Wizbang live blogging.

Kevin Drum: “Why deliberately use someone’s maiden name when it’s not the name she normally goes by? Rather, I’ve always figured that somebody in the Bush administration used the name Plame and gave it to Novak, but for some reason Novak doesn’t want anyone to know that. And sure enough, Fleischer’s testimony makes clear that the name “Plame” was the one known to people inside the White House. If that’s the name Libby used, then it’s the name everyone else used too.”

Firedoglake had lots of live blogging (just visit the site and scroll down) and this observation:

The single most intriguing part of the trial thus far has been the exposure of the cynical media manipulation machine that is the Vice President’s and President’s press offices and how well-oiled and slick the machinery for these operations has been. Cathie Martin’s testimony has been detailed and damaging in terms of credibility for any WH and OVP pronouncements, publicly and “on background” from here on out with the press corps (especially with bookings on MtP, I would imagine — in a town where reputation can be more important than substance, Tim Russert’s ego and credibility have been handed a big, ole stinkbomb in testimony)

At Largely: “The question is who lied obviously, the reporter or the press secretary. But there is an easy way to solve this. Since there were two other journalists present, they can confirm that either Ari lied or Dickerson lied. Team Libby may be talking to Gregory and Lippert quite soon me thinks.”

Gun Toting Liberal sees evidence of partisan favorites in a post that should be read in full:

What really bothers me the most though, is the blind partisanship being exhibited in this trial; a near-perfect example of what happens when we blend national security, politics, and classified information. On the right, we have the partisans turning a blind eye to the Bush Administration’s possible violations of national security; on the left, we have the partisans turning a blind eye to Sandy Berger’s violations of national security, AS IF, there is EVER any excuse for an American Citizen to violate the trust of his or her countrymen and women. Once national security concerns have been violated, it should trump any and ALL games of politics, and the traitors should be dealt with swiftly and with a heavy hand.

At the great blog, Firedoglake, Christy Hardin Smith raises a few VERY good questions about the Bush Administration’s probable, traitorous involvment in Plamegate. After making some great points and raising some extremely important questions, it struck me that she’s leaving the equally-important treason of Sandy Berger out of the equation.

Angry Bear:

You see – Ari was not explicitly told Ms. Plame was a covert agent and that he has just learned classified information. Maybe he didn’t know that CPD stood for Counter Proliferation Division. Maybe he didn’t realize she was an undercover operations officer as noted by Larry Johnson. Maybe he just assumed that Scooter Libby would have followed this very strict protocol. If you believe all of this, I have a bridge to sell you. Here’s the problem. Scooter Libby did know Valerie Plame was an undercover agent. And Ari Fleischer as a close aid to President Bush certainly should have checked to see whether she was or was not before babbling to reporters. Of course, these types of responsibilities that are inherent in holding such privilege government positions are not the concern of those who write for the National Review. Their only concern is assisting these gang of irresponsible men from avoiding any punishment – either in court or in public opinion.

Taylor Marsh writes in detail about the GOP getting hit on many fronts: “From the Libby trial to the new Democratic Congress, the Republicans are under siege. They’re feeling it, too….But everywhere they look, the White House and Republicans are getting hit, including the military. I cherish the emails I get from soldiers and their families. I received this email today. I’m not providing the name for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly shine a good light on some of our people either.” (Go to the link and read it yourself..JG)

Just One Minute looks and ponders some of the testimony and raises some intriguing questions.

Booman Tribune, in ANOTHER post that needs to be read in full (which shows you the intriguing quality of many blog posts these days) raises the “P word” when it comes to Fleischer’s testimony. A tiny taste 4 U:

I think I may have found evidence that Ari Fleischer committed perjury today. If Ari Fleischer did not commit perjury today, then former Time Magazine reporter John Dickerson is a big-time liar. First I will introduce the principals, then I will provide the setting and significance of this testimony, and, finally, I will set off the comments of Dickerson against the testimony of Fleischer (and I will do it in pretty color-coded boxes)….

….Fleischer has immunity for the leak of Plame’s name, but he doesn’t have immunity against perjuring himself in this trial. Therefore, he would be crazy to lie on the stand. And, yet, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he did exactly that when he testified today. Unless, that is, John Dickerson is a big-fat liar.