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Libby's lawyers hint at defense tactics

Trial won't become forum for Iraq war debate, judge says

From John King and Bill Mears
CNN

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Lawyers for Lewis Libby said they will challenge witnesses' credibility.

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Robert Novak
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense attorneys for Lewis "Scooter" Libby plan to call Karl Rove as a witness and challenge the credibility of a former diplomat at the center of the CIA leak investigation, the lawyers said Friday.

Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity.

Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, remains the subject of a grand jury investigation, having testified recently for the fifth time.

Libby appeared Friday in a key pretrial hearing in federal court, where a judge expressed reluctance to allow the defense to expand the scope of the trial beyond the perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Lead Libby attorney Theodore Wells also made clear he will challenge the credibility of a key government witness.

Libby's lawyers want federal officials to turn over more documents relating to the activities of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent in 2003 to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was trying to buy radioactive uranium from the African nation of Niger.

The prosecution alleges the White House deliberately leaked to the media the identity of Wilson's wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, in retaliation for her husband's subsequent criticism of President Bush's case for war against Iraq. (Valerie Plame signs book deal)

Libby is not charged with directly leaking Plame's identity, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald alleges Libby was involved in discussions with high-ranking officials over how to counter Wilson's conclusions.

Wells said Wilson's credibility over the Niger allegations would go to the heart of Libby's defense, but the judge expressed skepticism.

"I don't see how any of this has anything to do with your case," Judge Reggie Walton said to Wells.

Wells repeatedly called Wilson a "habitual liar" and said he would present five witnesses who would testify that Wilson was very open about Plame's employment at the spy agency.

Wilson did not attend the hearing but later told CNN, "None of those charges of which [Libby has] been indicted has anything to do with me."

He added, "The government in the person of the special prosecutor and his court filings has made it clear it believes several White House officials were engaged in a campaign to discredit, punish, and seek revenge on me. It would appear that campaign is ongoing."

The defense also disclosed it would challenge the credibility of a key prosecution witness: former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman.

The indictment alleges it was Grossman who first told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Libby told the grand jury he first learned it from a reporter.

Wells said Grossman was "not being totally candid" in his grand jury testimony, and said Grossman had a friendship with Wilson dating back to college.

The defense showed the judge e-mails it said supported its allegation about Grossman, but the documents were not quoted at the open hearing because they are classified.

Grossman's office said he would have no comment.

No decision yet on Rove

Rove, like Libby, acknowledges being involved in an aggressive White House campaign to rebut Wilson's allegations, but denies breaking any laws.

A Rove spokesman told CNN on Wednesday that Fitzgerald has not decided whether to charge Rove in the case, and that a decision was at least a week away.

Government prosecutors, led by Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney based in Chicago, Illinois, continued to be reluctant in open court to outline specific evidence and witnesses they plan to use. That has left Libby's lawyers unable to review, challenge and possibly win exclusion of certain documents.

Walton repeatedly warned both sides that he wants the trial to focus on the charges against Libby, not on the political debate about why the United States went to war in Iraq, which Walton called "a hotly contentious issue."

"I don't want to have this case become a forum of debating the issue of whether Wilson was right or whether the government was right" about the justification for war, Walton said. Fitzgerald later said he agreed with the judge.

Libby's defense team has outlined a case of forgetful memory and plans to use a variety of documents to suggest he misspoke because he was distracted by urgent national security and intelligence matters.

His trial is expected to begin in January and to last about a month.

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.

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