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Aide testifies Cheney helped effort to discredit Wilson

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-libby26jan26,1,2730931.story?coll=la-headlines-nation Aide testifies Cheney helped effort to discredit
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2007
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      http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-libby26jan26,1,2730931.story?coll=la-headlines-nation

      Aide testifies Cheney helped effort to discredit
      Wilson
      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
      Thursday.

      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
      planning.

      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
      and Cheney.

      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
      Union.

      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
      fact-finding mission.

      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
      in Virginia.

      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
      directly involved.

      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
      classified.

      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.
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