A federal judge ordered the CIA on Friday to turn over highly classified intelligence briefings to Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide to use in the aide’s defense against perjury charges.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton rejected CIA warnings that the nation’s security would be imperiled if the presidential-level documents were disclosed to lawyers for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff.
The judge said the CIA can either delete highly classified information from the briefing material and provide copies of what Libby received six days a week, often with Cheney. Or, Walton said, the CIA can produce “topic overviews” of the matters covered in the briefings.
The judge acknowledged that the order may trigger a fight over executive privilege for access to the Presidential Daily Briefs.
"If either the White House or the CIA deems it appropriate to assert any privilege with regard to these documents, such a motion shall be filed by March 24, 2006," Walton wrote.
The judge also ordered the CIA to give Libby an index of the topics covered in follow-up questions that the former White House aide asked intelligence officers who conducted the briefings.
In seeking CIA input late last month, Walton appeared to have been trying to broker a compromise between defense attorneys and prosecutors to avoid a lengthy court battle with the Bush administration over the briefing material.
The judge’s order indicates he is ready for such a fight.
The charges against Libby — perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents — grew out of an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.
Libby requested the briefings to demonstrate that if his statements to investigators were untrue that it was a case of innocent confusion or faulty memory because of his preoccupation with weightier national security matters at the time.