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Prosecutors can't read Libby's handwriting

Ex-Cheney chief of staff asked to decipher notes in Plame case

From Kevin Bohn and Carol Cratty
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.



Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
White House
Justice and Rights

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Prosecutors have asked former vice presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to help them decipher his handwritten notes for use in an ongoing investigation stemming from the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

The request to Libby was discussed in two court hearings February 3, including a closed session involving classified material.

A transcript of the closed session was made public Monday. It revealed that five government agencies will review evidence that may be used at Libby's trial, scheduled to start in January 2007, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

In the transcript, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said of the notes: "We can't read a substantial part of them."

Libby's handwriting "has a little bit of hieroglyphics in there, and so what we have to do is translate them so we can tell the intelligence agencies what their content is so we can figure out how sensitive it is," Fitzgerald said.

Government agencies may ask that some material in the notes remain classified or be changed before being made public to protect national security.

Fitzgerald said he will discuss with Libby's attorneys some sort of protection from penalty in case Libby makes an error in translating what the notes meant.

John Cline, an attorney for Libby, told Judge Reggie Walton that about 65 documents, some several pages long, have been identified, and he estimated the notes exceed 100 pages.

At the hearings, Cline estimated the translations of the notes could be completed by Friday.

Fitzgerald said the notes in question "by and large cover predominantly topics other than the issue of" Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose identity was leaked to columnist Robert Novak.

That publication prompted the special counsel investigation in which Libby was charged in October. He has pleaded not guilty.

Plame is the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to the African nation of Niger to check out a pre-war intelligence report that nuclear material was being sold to Iraq.

Plame's identity was disclosed shortly after her husband said he found no evidence to support the intelligence report and accused the Bush administration of skewing intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

The involvement of classified material adds a level of complication to the case. Libby's defense attorneys have asked for access to classified information.

On February 3, lawyers for both sides and the judge discussed the easiest way to get material cleared by the various government entities that need to review it. Those agencies are the CIA, the State Department, the Defense Department, the White House and the National Security Council.

Dean puts spotlight on Cheney

In a letter to Libby's lawyers obtained by CNN last week, Fitzgerald said it was his understanding that Libby told a grand jury he was "authorized to disclose information about the National Intelligence Estimate to the press by his superiors."

On Monday, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Vice President Dick Cheney should resign if he ordered Libby to give classified information to reporters to defend the case for war in Iraq.

"If Vice President Cheney has, in fact, ordered the leaking of political information -- of intelligence information -- that means he has to step aside," Dean told CNN. "We don't know if it's true, but he has been accused of it. If it's true, he has to step aside." (Full story)

A day earlier, Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said on Fox News Sunday that leaking intelligence information to make political arguments would be "inappropriate."

He added that Fitzgerald ought to "look closely" at the behavior of "whoever the superiors are" who allegedly authorized a leak.

Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican, said on the same program, "I don't think anybody should be releasing classified information, period."

The letter does not name who the superiors are. But Dean said Monday, "You only have one superior if you're the chief of staff, and that's the vice president."

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