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Libby jury views parts of White House videos

A federal judge allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to play portions of White House briefing room videos Thursday at the perjury and obstruction trial of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Feb. 1: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, second from left, and members of the press watch video of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's press briefing.
Feb. 1: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, second from left, and members of the press watch video of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's press briefing.Art Lien, NBC News
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to play portions of White House briefing room videos Thursday at the perjury and obstruction trial of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to play lengthy videos of then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan discussing the leak of a CIA operative's identity in 2003. Libby's attorneys objected, saying the videos were not relevant to the case.

McClellan originally told reporters that President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, had nothing to do with the leak, and prosecutors say that Libby pressed McClellan to make a similar statement on his behalf. McClellan ultimately did clear Libby's name in news accounts.

Fitzgerald says the briefing room tapes show that Libby was eager to publicly conceal conversations he had with reporters about CIA official Valerie Plame. Libby was eager to save his job and spare him public embarrassment, Fitzgerald said.

He also said Libby had drawn a "line in the sand" by getting White House officials to clear him of leaking classified information.

"He has every reason to be sure he doesn't cross that line in his conversations with the FBI," Fitzgerald said.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he would not permit Fitzgerald to play the entire tape, which includes a heated question-and-answer period that McClellan had with reporters. He said Fitzgerald could play the portions in which McClellan clears Libby and says anyone who leaked classified information would be fired.

Fitzgerald also appeared to be planning another multimedia display that would let jurors hear Libby's grand jury testimony in court. FBI agent Deborah Bond was the next witness Thursday .

Fitzgerald believes jurors should hear and see Libby's words for themselves. He successfully fought to allow into evidence Libby's full grand jury testimony -- the sworn statements he gave prosecutors during the investigation -- and Fitzgerald played a brief clip during his opening statement.

That tape would give jurors the chance to hear for themselves the testimony that Fitzgerald says is a lie and that Libby says is a product of faulty memory.

Fitzgerald told the court that he expects to "publish" or play to the jury Libby's grand jury testimony on audio tape Monday. That would likely last into Tuesday. The tape is approximately eight hours according to the lawyers.

There is one evidentiary issue the two sides say they are discussing which might result in one brief witness prior to the appearance onf NBC news Tim Russert.

( is owned, in part, by NBC News.)

Russert would be the final prosecution witness and the government says it may be able rest Tuesday - but it seems very possible it could take longer.

Russert says he did not discuss Plame with Libby, a recollection that is directly at odds with the former aide's testimony.

The defense is objecting to the public release of the Libby audio tape. The judge acknowledged his concern that releasing the audio might increase the news coverage and risk the defendant's right to a fair trial.

A lawyer representing the media will be heard by the judge as well.

The perjury and obstruction trial hinges on whether Libby lied about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame.

Fitzgerald spent the first week of the trial presenting witnesses who said they talked to Libby about Plame, the wife of prominent Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson. Some witnesses, such as officials from the CIA and State Department, said they told Libby about Plame.

Others, such as former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and journalists Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, said Libby talked about Plame to them.

Those witnesses undercut Libby's claim that he didn't remember learning about Plame through official channels and was surprised to hear about her during a much later conversation with Russert. Any conversations he had about Plame, Libby said, were just recollections of what he heard from Russert.

Fitzgerald contends Libby concocted that story to avoid embarrassment, prosecution and possibly losing his job.

Libby, ex-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is on trial on charges he lied to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters about Plame and obstructed the investigation into how her identity leaked to the public in 2003. No one has been charged with the actual leak.

Defense attorneys say Libby will be his own star witness and will explain to the jury that he was preoccupied with national security issues and simply forgot about his conversations regarding Plame. Attorneys also have indicated they'll call Cheney to testify.

Wednesday's testimony
Former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper testified Wednesday that a key conversation with White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak case was off the record, a description that appeared to be at odds with his written account of the interview.

Cooper, the second reporter to testify at Libby’s perjury and obstruction trial, recalled a July 12, 2003 telephone conversation in which he asked Libby whether prominent war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife was behind a CIA-sponsored trip to investigate an Iraqi uranium deal.

Cooper testified Wednesday that Libby responded with the off-the-record comment, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too,” or “Yeah, I’ve heard something like that, too.”

Reporters normally take off-the-record comments as guidance that cannot be used in print. In a 2005 Time story recounting his involvement in the case, Cooper said his conversation with Libby was “on background,” a condition that normally allows the material to be used in print but without a name attached to it.

Cooper testified that he used Libby’s statement and a previous on-background interview with White House aide Karl Rove as the basis for asserting in an article that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.

The apparent discrepancy doesn’t undercut Cooper’s account of the conversation but Libby’s attorneys could use it to question Cooper’s credibility. They have aggressively questioned previous witnesses about their inconsistent statements.

Earlier conversations
The first journalist to testify in the case, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, acknowledged Wednesday that she had conversations with other government officials and could not be “absolutely, absolutely certain” that she first heard about Plame from Libby.

Miller is a crucial witness in the case. She says she had two conversations about Plame in mid-2003 with Libby. Those conversations are at the heart of the trial because they allegedly occurred well before Libby says he learned Plame’s identity from another reporter.

Libby’s defense strategy revolves around showing jurors that he didn’t lie about his conversations regarding Plame, but simply forgot them. If defense attorneys can cast doubt on Miller’s memory and her story, it would bolster Libby’s case.

During a sometimes heated cross-examination Wednesday, defense attorneys pressed Miller to acknowledge that she might have heard about Plame elsewhere.

Attorney William Jeffress asked Miller to recall the other government officials she spoke to and explain how Wilson’s name and phone number got into her notebook prior to the conversation with Libby.

“I don’t remember their names. I don’t know what you want me to say beyond that,” Miller said, adding moments later, “I know I had several conversations but there is no reference to them in my notebook and I have no independent recollection.”

Jeffress persisted, showing Miller excerpts from her grand jury testimony in which she said her conversation with Libby was “among the first times” she heard about Plame but couldn’t be certain it was the first.

“You’re not absolutely certain you first heard that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA from Mr. Libby?” Jeffress asked.

“I can’t be absolutely, absolutely certain, but I have no recollection of an earlier conversation with anyone else,” Miller replied.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s case began as an investigation into who leaked Plame’s name to reporters at a time when her husband was criticizing the administration. Three years later, nobody has been charged with the leak.

Journalism organizations have decried this trial, which could see 10 reporters become witnesses. Jeffress has said that up to seven reporters are on his witness list.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this story.