Friday January 26, 2007
Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis Libby. Photograph: Haraz N Ghanbari/AP
Cathie Martin, Mr Cheney's former spokeswoman, yesterday told a court that she clearly remembered telling Mr Libby the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, whose husband, Joseph Wilson, had attacked the Bush administration's case for war against Iraq.
Mr Wilson had been sent to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger for his nuclear weapons programme. He reported back to the state department and the CIA that the reports were untrue, yet the claim surfaced in George Bush's state of the union speech in January, 2003.
Mr Libby is not being tried for the leak itself, but for the subsequent cover-up. The former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage subsequently admitted leaking Ms Plame's identity to Mr Novak and to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. But Mr Armitage says he did not realise Ms Plame's job was covert.
Ms Martin was the fourth prosecution witness in a trial that could prove highly embarrassing for the White House by shedding light on its deliberations in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Her testimony could be especially damaging as she worked closely with Mr Libby and Mr Cheney.
A staunch Republican, Ms Martin was recruited to work for Mr Cheney by Mary Matalin, a close friend of Mr Libby and Mr Cheney. She is married to Kevin Martin, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and is currently the deputy director of communications for policy and planning for Mr Bush.
Her account of events backed up the prosecution's case that Mr Libby found out Ms Plame's identity from administration officials rather than from reporters, as he told investigators.
According to US reports of the trial, Ms Martin said she learned that Ms Plame worked for the CIA after Mr Libby told her to call the agency to get more information about Mr Wilson's trip to Niger. Ms Martin said she quickly passed on Ms Plame's name to Mr Libby and Mr Cheney.
Ms Martin also told the court of the White House's media strategy - including "strategic leaks" - personally directed by Mr Cheney to reject charges that Mr Bush had misled the public in his January, 2003 speech.
But Ms Martin said that neither man had suggested that Ms Plame's identity be revealed as part of the White House plan. She said that she had no knowledge of either actually doing so.
Theodore Wells, Mr Libby's chief lawyer, in his cross-examination of Martin, tried to challenge her memory, as he has done with other witnesses. Her cross-examination will continue when the trial resumes Monday. She will be followed on the witness stand by Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary.