Aide testifies Cheney helped effort to discredit
By Richard B. Schmitt, Times Staff Writer
5:27 PM PST, January 25, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney and his
former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were
personally and actively involved in an effort to spin
news coverage and discredit a critic of the Iraq war
even before the fact that his wife was a CIA operative
became public, a senior White House official testified
In the first insider account of how top officials
reacted when questions began to be raised about the
intelligence used to justify the war, Catherine J.
Martin said that at one point Cheney dictated a
detailed list of talking points to be used by Libby
and others in making calls to reporters. Martin was
Cheney's top media aide at the time and is now deputy
White House director of communications for policy and
Martin testified as a prosecution witness at Libby's
trial on charges of obstructing an investigation into
how the name of a CIA operative became public. The
operative, Valerie Plame, is the wife of former U.S.
envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson, who had written a
government report questioning White House claims that
Iraq had sought nuclear weapons material from the
government of Niger -- a report that the White House
sought to discredit.
At the time Libby was questioned by federal agents, a
grand jury was investigating how Plame's identity was
leaked to reporters.
Martin said she learned that Plame worked for the CIA
after Libby directed her to call the agency to get
more information about a fact-finding trip Wilson had
taken to Niger in February 2002. Martin said she
quickly reported the information about Plame to Libby
Martin's statements buttressed the testimony of two
former government officials who said earlier this week
that they received urgent calls from Libby in June
2003 asking about Wilson and the trip. Martin was the
third prosecution witness to tell the jury that she
had told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA
before it was publicly revealed in a syndicated column
by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.
Libby had told federal agents that he had first
learned from journalists that Plame was a CIA agent.
On the third day of the Libby trial, Martin offered a
rare glimpse behind the secrecy that has surrounded
senior officials of the Bush administration involved
in making and managing Iraq war policy. She described
details of a White House media strategy, hatched at
the highest levels, which sought to rebut charges that
Bush had misled the public in his 2003 State of the
In making the case for war, the president had asserted
that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear material in
Africa. Wilson had found the claim baseless and had
asserted that Cheney had apparently authorized his
Martin said Cheney personally dictated talking points
to be used in answering news media questions about
Wilson's allegation that he had authorized a trip to
Niger. The talking points included information from a
secret National Intelligence Estimate.
The vice president ordered media aides to start
tracking news coverage closely, while Libby was
directed to contact reporters.
At one point, Cheney gave a note card to Libby with
information to give to a Time magazine reporter
covering the case, while Cheney and Libby were
traveling on Air Force Two on the way back from the
christening of an air craft carrier for Ronald Reagan
Martin also described how she discussed with Libby
media "options" to rebut Wilson that included a
strategic "leak" to a handful of reporters.
But Martin said that neither Cheney nor Libby had
suggested that the identity of Plame be divulged as
part of the game plan. She said that she had no
knowledge of either actually doing so.
"I recall the vice president telling me to keep track
of this story, and keep track of the commentators who
were continuing to write on this story and talk about
us," Martin testified. "We were paying attention to
'Hardball' with Chris Matthews because he had been
talking about it a lot."
She described the reaction inside the administration
as questions began to be raised, starting in May 2003.
At that time, The New York Times described the Wilson
trip to Niger but did not name him. The article said
the administration had engaged in a "campaign of
wholesale deceit" and suggested that Cheney was
Martin said that Libby asked her to call the
then-chief public affairs officer at the CIA, William
Harlow, to find out about the trip by the
then-mysterious former envoy.
"So I was saying, 'Who sent him? Who is this guy?' "
Martin testified. "I remember Bill Harlow saying his
name was Joe Wilson, he was a charge in Baghdad, and
his wife works over here." Martin said she promptly
went to see Cheney and Libby with the news.
Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Times on
July 6, 2003. The same day he aired his concerns on
the NBC program "Meet the Press." Almost immediately,
Martin said she was huddling again with Cheney about
how to respond to a surge in media inquiries.
"He dictated to me what he wanted to say," Martin
said. The detailed response covered eight separate
points including a reference to a sensitive
intelligence community assessment. Martin testified
that she was "not sure if I could use that point"
because she believed at the time that the report was
Later, she said she discussed with Cheney and Libby
how she had learned from Harlow that two network
reporters were writing stories about the case, and how
Cheney ordered up Libby to call them personally,
including one that he made from his private ante room
outside of Cheney's office.
"I was aggravated that Scooter was calling the
reporters, and that I wasn't," Martin said.
The trial is expected to resume Monday with testimony
from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.