Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rove and Bartlett May Have To Testify at Libby Trial

From Michael Isikoff in Newsweek:

White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials—including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett-may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby's defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby's lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a "scapegoat" to protect Rove. Cheney is expected to provide the most crucial testimony to back up Wells's assertion, one of the lawyers close to the case said. ...

An equally embarrassing conflict could emerge next week when former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer takes the stand. Fleischer has been one of the most mysterious figures in the case, making virtually no public comments about it since he left the White House in July 2003. In the past he has insisted he wasn't even represented by a lawyer. But it emerged during court arguments this week that Fleischer originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges to avoid testifying and then only agreed to do so after he was given an immunity deal by Fitzgerald -- an arrangement that normally requires extensive bargaining among attorneys. Fleischer's testimony is critical to Fitzgerald's case: as the prosecutor laid out this week in his opening statement, Fleischer has said that Libby told him over a White House lunch on July 7, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and made a point of describing this information as "hush and hush." Fitzgerald used that account to undercut Libby's grand-jury assertion that he was surprised and "taken aback" just three or four days later when, he claims, Russert told him about Wilson's wife. "You can’t learn something startling on Thursday that you're giving out Monday and Tuesday of the same week," Fitzgerald said. Fleischer has also testified that Bartlett also later told him about Wilson's wife and, after hearing it from both Libby and Bartlett, the then-White House press secretary disclosed the information to NBC reporter David Gregory.

On its face, Fleischer's account seems to contradict the repeated public assertions of his immediate successor, Scott McClellan, in October 2003 that nobody at the White House was in any way involved in the leak of Plame's identity. It also potentially puts Bartlett, one of the president's senior and most trusted advisers, on the hot seat. If Bartlett backs up Fleischer, it suggests he himself played a role in passing along radioactive information that triggered a criminal investigation that has plagued the White House for more than four years. If he contradicts Fleischer, it raises questions about the credibility of a man who was President Bush's chief spokesman for the first two and a half years of his presidency. His lawyer declined to comment on what Bartlett will say.

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