NEW YORK — I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby told investigators he learned the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson from NBC News personality Tim Russert — a false statement that is at the heart of his indictment, according to charges released Friday.
The indictment — on five counts of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury — lays out a textbook case of an attempt to misuse the media to advance a political agenda.
The chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney told the FBI – and later, under oath, the grand jury – that he learned Plame was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson from “Meet the Press” host Russert.
Libby claimed that Russert had said that all reporters in Washington knew this already, but Libby claimed to be “taken aback” by what Russert said.
Libby then passed that information on to Time Magazine’s Matt Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
Libby described his role in the dissemination of Plame’s identity as simply repeating what other reporters had told him and that he was at the end of a chain of Washington gossip.
“It would be a compelling story that would lead to the FBI going away — if it were true,” said Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in a press conference Friday.
Russert denied that he had ever discussed Plame’s identity with Libby. Moreover, the indictment alleges that by the time of his conversation with Russert, Libby had already learned Plame’s identity from Vice President Cheney and three other government officials.
“Mr. Libby’s story that he was at the end of the chain was not true. It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain. He was the first member of the government to give information about Ms. Wilson to a reporter,” Fitzgerald said.
The indictment issued Friday gave a detailed look into how the Libby allegedly used the press as part of a larger smear campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake uranium from Niger to develop a nuclear weapons program.
“I continue to believe that revealing my wife’s identity was wrong and harmful to the nation,” said Joseph Wilson, in a statement read by his lawyer.
Libby began selectively leaking to certain reporters the name of Wilson’s wife as well as her status as a CIA employee, the indictment states.
He then told other reporters that journalists were calling him and asking him if he knew that Plame was Wilson’s wife and that she worked for the agency. The latter is what he told FBI agents when questioned about how he first learned of Plame’s identity and CIA status, according to the indictment.
The five-count indictment centers on three conversations Libby had with reporters: Russert, Cooper and Miller.
About the first conversation, with Russert, Libby told investigators that he learned Plame’s identity. But Russert testified they never discussed Plame and Fitzgerald alleges Libby knew Plame’s identity before that conversation took place.
In the second conversation, with Cooper, Libby testified he passed on the information, but told Cooper he had heard it from another reporter, and could not confirm if it was true. The indictment alleges Libby confirmed Plame’s identity to Cooper as fact.
In the third conversation, with Miller, Libby again said he relayed the information but said he couldn’t confirm if it was true. But Miller testified that Libby stated to her as fact that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.
The indictment gave a more complete explanation about why Fitzgerald compelled Cooper and Miller to testify as they were the key witnesses to the crime, which was lying about what he told reporters and when.
“I do not think reporters should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely,” he said. “But if you are the eyewitness to a crime and you walk away from that, without talking to the eyewitness that frightens me.”
Libby issued a statement saying he expected to be “completely and totally exonerated.”