The prosecution has called Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary to the stand in the Scooter Libby case. Liveblogging of the testimony continues below.
January 2004 – Grand jury. Did not testify. Asked for (and received) a grant of immunity.
January 2003 SOTU address. Controversy over sentence. “According to the British Iraq is seeking to by … from Africa.”
March of 2003. Part of why he said that turned out to be wrong. Fleischer maintained in briefings that President stood by the 16 words because there were other sources.
In the spring Fleischer learn of doubts about all the evidence. This information was “out there” in columns but the source wasn’t known.
July 6th, Joe Wilson OpEd.
July 7th, press gaggle. Reaction to oped. “Zero new here, other than we knew the name of the person making the charges.” Given the “16 words,” does the WH still stand by the “16 words?” Punted on that question. That day had lunch plans with Scooter Libby – pre-existing.
Libby was not typically a “source” for Fleischer. Lunch at the WH Mess. Lunch… Talked about Ari’s plans for private sector, sports (Dolphins). Talked about briefing. Libby reiterated point that VP did not send Wilson. Libby said Wilson was sent by his wife who worked in the CIA counter-proliferation division. Her name is Valerie Plame. This (name) was news to him.
“This is hush-hush, on the QT. Not very many people know about this”
Thought that it was an odd characterization, thought it meant “newsy.” Did you think this was classified? “Absolutely not.” There’s very strict protocols for classified material whether they be printed or oral.
In regards to the Plame getting Wilson the gig at the at CIA. “My thought was that it was nepotism. That’s what I thought I was hearing”
Lunch break (12:30PM)
Defense cross examination (1:35PM)
Defense attorney gets Fleisher to admit the he met several times with prosecutors prior to his various testimonies, and refused defense’s request to meet with Libby defense team even though it would have been legal.
Side of the road in Uganda. Fleischer told David Gregory (NBC), John Dickerson (Time) about Wilson being sent by his wife. Any reaction? The press reaction was “so what.” “like a lot of things I said to the press, they had no impact.” Why is that? I had no idea about her status, but I thought if I had something to do with this I should seek council.
After meeting with council and obtaining immunity, did you answer all of the questions of the Grand Jury. Yes.
Learned of Plame from Libby prior to Uganda trip. The Wilson OpEd appeared on the Sunday before the trip.
Dan Bartlett – communications director at the time. Still in the WH, councilor to the President. Said out loud. I can’t believe he saying that VP sent him to Niger. His wife sent him, she works at the CIA. Up until that point he (Fleischer) had not mentioned this to anyone. In a matter of hours after Bartlett said this (Fleischer already knew), Fleischer told the two reporters on the side of the road in Uganda mere hours after that car ride with Bartlett.
Fleischer: “Why did the President say those 16 words?” He received information from a variety of sources. NSC made him aware that the yellow cake was based on forged documents. That went into the press gaggle.
Did Wilson’s report, was that one of the reasons? He wouldn’t have known at the time.
Defense notes that Fleisher mispronounced Valerie Plame, and asked if that was because he read the name, not heard it. He was wishy-washy in response to that. He thinks he heard is spoken, but isn’t sure.
On flight to Uganda (July 11), was the press on the flying gaggle all over the Wilson piece? The p
Ari read the CIA summary of the Wilson trip on the plane. Why? He was checking to see if there was anything the could declassify to help tell the story. Rice said the CIA document backed that up, so he was reading it. The report is by a CIA station officer based on the work of Wilson.
Former Nigerian PM quoted in report about Wilson’s report that there was no current activities, but in June 1999 Nigerian businessman met with him to insist on a meeting with an Iraqi delegation to talk about “expanding relations,” which he knew to mean uranium and yellow cake. That meeting did occur.
Fleischer, “The classified information in this report supports what the President said in the State Of The Union.”
The document – Wilson is not mentioned by name. A contact with excellent access, and no proven reporting record.
Fleischer testified to the Grand Jury that Wilson was named in the report. Both sides stipulate that he’s not mentioned by name in the report.
In response to Dan Bartlett saying, her wife worked there, he (Ari) thought “I’ve head this before” There was no discussion about Bartlett’s blurting out (which the defense went to great lengths to show was very odd), or his lunch with Libby where the topic came up. Fleischer claims he said nothing to Bartlett.
Q: Would it be common for Dan Bartlett to make a comment like this and for you to ignore him? A: Something about reading his document and already “knowing” about what Bartlett was talking about. Here Fleischer claims he was more interested in reading a document. In short Bartlett said the wife sent him and Ari said nothing.
Senior Staff cabin – 4 seats. there were about 10 seats where Fleischer and and Bartlett were. Military aide, President’s personal aide, photographer, advance person. Fleisher can’t recall anyone else there.
Questions about July press gaggles conducted in Uganda during, where he mentioned the information about Ambassador Wilson’s wife. Fleischer doesn’t recall if the information was “on background,” but it was not a secret. Tamara Lipper (Newsweek) who he (Ari) recalls walked off before the wife sending (Plame) him came up.
A War on Wilson? article was by Matthew Cooper and John Dickerson, who Fleischer had talked to about Plame. There were questions about the July 12 press gaggle, where the “16 words” were a big topic of questions.
Harlow (CIA spokesman) was not happy about Rice’s characterization, which made it look like it was the CIA botched things in regards to the 16 words. There was discussion (Bartlett and Fleischer) on the way back from Uganda, about a CBS report saying a CIA source said President made speech knowing the information (16 words) were wrong, which apparently really stuck in Fleischer’s craw, as he’s used that repeatedly.
Fleisher called Walter Pincus, he doesn’t know what Bartlett did.
Harlow (CIA spokesman) was not happy about Rice’s characterization, which made it look like it was the CIA botched things in regards to the 16 words.
Fleischer called Pincus because he knew he was covering the controversy (from the bylines) since the normal WaPo writers were in transit.
Your (Fleischer’s) immunity, was that sought in February 2004? “The only way I would know that is through discussions I would have had with my lawyers” (big laughs in the press room).
You were asked about Mr. Pincus at the Grand Jury? Yes. And you testified you didn’t mention Valerie Wilson to him? Yes. And you haven’t been prosecuted for perjury? No.
(Sidebar) It looks like the defense is trying to paint Fleischer into a corner as someone who may have been quoted by a reporter as a unnamed WH source, whether or not he was actually the one who told them.
Coming out of sidebar, that line of questioning was dropped, in favor of the Miami Dolphins connection with Scooter Libby. Hey they can’t all be gems.
Reaching back to Fleischer’s Grand Jury testimony in regards to the report that he thought that had Wilson’s name in it, but didn’t. In effect he said that he had assumed Wilson’s name was in there because he’s already published the OpEd and he (Fleischer) already knew it was him, but even in the Grand Jury testimony he stated he wasn’t completely sure….
July 7, 2003 lunch with Libby. The only thing about he’s not absolutely certain about is whether Libby mention the wife (Valerie Wilson) by name.
As the proceedings head to sidebar the assembled media are small debate as to what exactly was said in Fleischer’s testimony about the Libby lunch….
Jury questions – Most would have required Fleischer to speculate, which the judge wouldn’t allow. He instructed the questioning jurors to disregard their own questions, at least the ones which he didn’t ask. In the Rice gaggle, the judge asked why Fleisher did mention Valerie Wilson. Combination of hearing it from two people and the CBS report, Fleischer thought he’d try it out to see if it went anywhere.
How many reporters at the Rice Air Force One gaggle? 8 or so plus cameramen.
As press secretary did you think that since it was “hush hush, on the QT,” that you should not have released it to reporters? In hindsight he (Fleischer) wished he had, but he did not believe that was “classified.”
What makes you think the name was used at that lunch? “My memory”