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Libby prosecutors await judge's rulings

Story Highlights

• Prosecution could rest its case as early as Tuesday
• Judge to rule on newspaper articles and grand jury audiotapes
• Defense has Vice President Cheney, Bush political adviser Rove on witness list
By Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Prosecutors in the criminal trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby plan to rest their case as soon as Tuesday.

Nearly a dozen witnesses have taken the stand in the past two weeks. The last witness is expected to be Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press."

Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is fighting a five-count indictment including charges of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the public disclosure of a one-time operative at the CIA.

Valerie Plame's identity was made public in a column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. Libby told a grand jury that Russert told him the operative's name four days earlier, but a former New York Times reporter testified last week that Libby gave her Plame's name the previous month.

Libby is not accused of leaking classified information, but special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald hopes to show Libby lied under oath trying to save his job.

"You may be involved in something that is a big mess in terms of law, in terms of politics and in terms of getting yourself fired," Fitzgerald said Thursday as he tried to establish Libby's state of mind with proposed evidence that could include newspaper articles Libby had saved in his office.

Fitzgerald on Thursday asserted he has proof as to what Libby "had in mind when he made up a story that says, 'You know what? I forgot everything that ever came from the vice president. That wasn't what I passed on. I passed on what came from Mr. Russert when Mr. Russert told me that all the reporters are saying it.' "

Fitzgerald wants the jury to consider two undisclosed newspaper articles Libby had saved in his office files. Defense attorneys have objected, saying the articles contain all manner of hearsay they would not be able to challenge in court.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton hopes to rule on the evidence by the time the trial resumes Monday and before the defense makes its case.

Libby resigned after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2005.

The story started more than three years earlier, when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson made a trip to Africa in February 2002, investigating whether Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had tried to acquire uranium from the African country of Niger.

Wilson told the CIA he doubted there were any transactions.

Almost a year later, President Bush asserted the disputed link between Iraq and Niger in his State of the Union address. The reference was later renounced by the head of the CIA, partly because of a firestorm caused by Wilson openly questioning the claim in a column in the New York Times.

By June 2003, information began circulating more widely among reporters that Plame was Wilson's wife and worked at the CIA, and among officials that Plame had arranged for her husband's trip, according to testimony in the Libby case.

Thursday, an FBI agent took the witness stand for the prosecution to describe the first Libby interview in connection with an investigation as to how Plame's name got out.

Defense attorney William Jeffress, on cross-examination of Agent Deborah Bond, recounted her report that Libby had told her "he had been told by the vice president during a telephone call that Mrs. Wilson worked at the CIA in the Counter Proliferation Division, correct?"

Agent Bond replied, "Yes, but that he had forgotten about it."

The phone call between Libby and Cheney took place on June 12, 2003, about a month before Libby says he first learned about Wilson's wife from NBC's Russert, according to testimony and documents presented at trial.

Since the jury was seated January 23, prosecutors have called witnesses from the CIA, the White House and the press. Testimony and evidence include handwritten notes by Libby, Cheney, the vice-president's spokeswoman, his legal counsel, and two reporters with knowledge of the story.

Courtroom devices have included audiotapes of Libby's secret grand jury testimony, videotapes of White House briefings, and opportunities for the members of the jury to hand questions to the judge to ask witnesses.

Prosecutors have hours of recordings of Libby's grand jury testimony they want to introduce as evidence.

But if Walton allows the recordings to be played in the courtroom, defense attorneys hope to block their public release. Walton indicates he is inclined to agree, as he tries to avoid exposing the nonsequestered members of the jury to media coverage of LIbby's trial.

As the second week drew to a close, Walton said coverage would become all the more "sensational" if the recordings were broadcast on news and talk programs.

Walton already was thinking of putting constraints on evidence and testimony admitted after Libby lawyer Ted Wells declared his intention to call Cheney to the witness stand.

Defense attorneys also have former CIA Director George Tenet and Rove on a list of proposed witnesses.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, right, is accused of lying to agents and a grand jury investigating who leaked a CIA operative's identity.


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