WASHINGTON — The judge in the CIA leak case said Monday that lawyers on both sides in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby will be allowed to subpoena journalists and news organizations.
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The issue of calling reporters and news organizations to supply information or testify in the trial was raised at a hearing on Friday.
At the hearing, Libby, who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney, won the right to review his handwritten notes for a nine-month period surrounding the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name.
Judge Reggie Walton seemed skeptical about a second request by the defense that it also be given highly classified documents known as the President's Daily Brief for a similar period. The judge deferred a final ruling on that request, which Libby's defense team says is essential in demonstrating that he was busy with other national security matters at the time of the Plame leak.
Libby, 55, was indicted last year on charges that he lied about how he learned Plame’s identity and when he subsequently told reporters.
The CIA operative’s identity was published in July 2003 by syndicated columnist Robert Novak after Plame’s husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports.
A strategy to 'sabotage' case?
Defense lawyers have said that if Libby's statements to investigators were untrue, it was a case of innocent confusion or faulty memory because of his preoccupation with pressing national security matters at the time.
Walton said he is concerned that Libby’s request could “sabotage” the case because President Bush probably would invoke executive privilege and refuse to turn over the classified reports.
“The vice president — his boss — said these are the family jewels,” the judge said, referring to Cheney’s past description of the daily briefings. “If the executive branch says, 'This is too important to the welfare of the nation and we’re not going to comply,’ the criminal prosecution goes away.”
Ted Wells, one of Libby's lawyers, said the judge needs to take time to make sure Libby gets the evidence he needs to defend himself. “If it’s done in a quick and dirty way, he’s going to be convicted,” Wells said.
The court set an April 7 deadline for any reporters or news organizations to produce the requested items. Any motions to quash or modify the subpoenas must also be filed by that time.
A trial date has been set for January 2007.
The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.