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Libby hearing focuses on classified White House papers

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Highly sensitive White House documents will be part of a closed-door hearing that began Wednesday ahead of the criminal trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and his team of prosecutors entered the courthouse after a morning security alert prompted a three-hour evacuation of the building.

They walked in with boxes of documents and cardboard tubes, but were sent back to the hallway as authorities conducted another security sweep.

Fifteen minutes later, the courtroom reopened and the prosecutors, along with Libby and his attorneys William Jeffress and John Cline, walked inside. The doors to the hearing closed at 1:15 p.m.

The focus of the hearing is twofold: to determine to which extent the defense will use the documents at trial and how the defense would overcome objections that the material should be deemed hearsay, according to memos filed by both sides.

Defense attorneys say the material may help convince the jury that national security matters could have distracted Libby as he testified about his knowledge of one-time CIA operative Valerie Plame.

He has pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment charging him with lying to investigators and a grand jury about his discussions with journalists about Plame.

No one, including Libby, has been charged with the actual disclosure of Plame's identity.

The leak came shortly after her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, published comments critical of the pre-war justification to invade Iraq.

The couple have filed a federal civil lawsuit naming Libby, Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney and some unnamed defendants, claiming Plame was the victim of intentional and malicious exposure in retaliation for Wilson's article.

Two weeks ago, the couple added former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage after he acknowledged being the long-undisclosed source of syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame's name in July 2003. (Full story)

At the time, Novak also was a paid contributor to CNN.

Armitage has said his disclosure of Plame's identity was unintentional, telling CNN he "had no idea that she was covert" and "just inadvertently let (her name) out, in answer to a question from Mr. Novak. It was not even part of our conversation, it was just something he asked me literally as he was going out the door."

Novak, however, has disputed that story. In a column two weeks ago, Novak wrote that Armitage "did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column."

Fitzgerald declined to comment Wednesday about the Armitage acknowledgment.

Fight over classified papers

No one besides Libby has been charged in the case.

Libby, who resigned as Cheney's chief of staff in October upon his indictment, is preparing for a January court date. The charges he face include one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements.

Since Libby's indictment, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has generally favored defense requests for access to top-secret notes from when Libby was in meetings with President Bush, Cheney and other ranking officials.

Among the items entered into the record of the case is a photocopy of Wilson's article, with Cheney's handwritten notes in the margin.

Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, had fought against the disclosure of classified White House papers and sought a three-part test to restrict the use of papers known as the president's daily briefs.

He wrote that if the papers are considered admissible, "the government can seek to substitute or redact those documents to protect the classified information from disclosure."

He argued that the onus was on the government, not the trial judge, to determine whether to preclude entirely the use of such classified information and thereby risk dismissal of the case.

So far, the investigation into the leak has cost $1.44 million, according to Fitzgerald's office.

The bulk of that money -- $1.1 million -- went to salaries and related costs, which did not cost taxpayers additional money because the employees are already on the federal payroll, his office said.

Most of the remaining money has been used for travel ($173,000) and contractual services ($94,000) during the almost three-year-old probe, said Fitzgerald's spokesman Randall Samborn.

Asked to comment on the cost, Fitzgerald said, "That's a matter of public record, and I won't have anything to say."

The time and monetary tallies are relatively low when other investigations of high-profile government officials are considered. Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray spent 10 years and more than $71 million investigating President Clinton, and the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky matters. The decade-long inquiry into former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros cost $21 million.

CNN's Paul Courson and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report

In a victory for Lewis Libby, classified information will be used as part of a closed-door hearing Wednesday.




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