Two of the five felony counts in the perjury and obstruction of justice case against Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, are based entirely on a single phone conversation Libby had with Matthew Cooper, then a White House correspondent for Time magazine, on July 12, 2003. In federal court in Washington Wednesday, CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald revealed his documentary evidence to support those charges — one count of perjury and one count of making false statements — and the evidence was this:
had somethine and about the wilson thing and not sure if it’s ever
That brief passage, reproduced here exactly as it was written, is a portion of Cooper’s hastily typed notes from the July 12 conversation. It apparently describes something that was said between Cooper and Libby that may, or may not, have touched on the question of whether Libby leaked to Cooper the information that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife played a role in the decision to send him to Niger to investigate part of the administration’s case for war in Iraq.
On the witness stand, three and a half years after typing those words, Cooper testified that he didn’t quite know what they meant. But he said he remembered clearly what was said about Wilson’s wife, former CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson. After talking about the case for war and the controversy over the “16 words” in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, Cooper testified, he asked Libby what he knew about Mrs. Wilson. “Toward the end of the conversation, I asked what he had heard about Wilson’s wife being involved in sending him to Niger,” Cooper told the court. “He said words to the effect of, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.’”
That was the extent of their conversation about Wilson’s wife, Cooper testified as he was guided through his story by prosecutor Fitzgerald.
“Did he say that Mr. Wilson’s wife’s work at the CIA involved covert status?” asked Fitzgerald.
“Did he say it was classified?”
“Did he at any time indicate that he had heard it from reporters?”
“Did you type notes when he said words to the effect that he had heard that, too?”
“No, I didn’t.”
The exchanges between Cooper and Fitzgerald are significant because they, along with the snippet from Cooper’s notes, gave the jury all the evidence it would receive on Counts Three and Five of the indictment. Count Three accused Libby of making a false statement to the FBI during interviews on October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003. That false statement consisted of Libby telling the FBI that when he talked to Cooper, he told Cooper that he, Libby, had been hearing about Mrs. Wilson from reporters. That statement was false, Fitzgerald alleged, because Cooper said it never happened. Here is the core allegation of Count Three:
During a conversation with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine on July 12, 2003, Libby told Cooper that reporters were telling the administration that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, but Libby did not know if this was true.
As defendant Libby well knew when he made it, this statement was false in that: Libby did not advise Cooper on or about July 12, 2003 that reporters were telling the administration that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, nor did Libby advise him that Libby did not know whether this was true; rather, Libby confirmed for Cooper, without qualification, that Libby had heard that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA…
The evidence to support Count Three is Cooper’s story. It was covered quickly on Wednesday, when Cooper answered “No” to Fitzgerald’s question about whether Libby had indicated that he heard about Mrs. Wilson from reporters. That was it.
Count Five accuses Libby of committing perjury when he appeared before Fitzgerald’s grand jury on March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004. It is essentially the same charge as Count Three, based on the same July 12, 2003 conversation. It quotes Libby telling the grand jury, “I was very clear to say reporters are telling us that because in my mind I still didn’t know it as a fact. I thought I was – all I had was this information that was coming in from the reporters.”
That was false, Count Five alleges, because Cooper says so:
In truth and fact, as Libby well knew when he gave this testimony, it was false in that Libby did not advise Matthew Cooper or other reporters that Libby had heard other reporters were saying that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, nor did Libby advise Cooper or other reporters that Libby did not know whether this assertion was true…
In federal court on Wednesday, Cooper was the star — and the only — witness to support Counts Three and Five. The role that prosecutors expected his indecipherable notes to play was not clear. By the end of the day, Fitzgerald’s case on those counts appeared, to say the least, remarkably thin. But the seriousness for Lewis Libby is very real. If he were to be convicted on Counts Three and Five alone, he could face a maximum of ten years in prison.