Ari Fleischer, mob rat?

Libby's defense team reveals that Bush's former press secretary demanded immunity before testifying.

Published January 23, 2007 9:07PM (EST)

Which member of the Bush administration refused to testify before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury unless he received a grant of immunity first? That question has been a central part of Plamegate parlor games for several months, and now we've got the answer: Ari Fleischer.

In his opening statement today, Libby lawyer Ted Wells said that the former White House press secretary "refused to testify without immunity," then testified after getting immunity that he had told "multiple reporters" about Joseph Wilson's wife.

If you've ever watched a mob trial, especially one involving witnesses who have been "flipped" by the government to testify against their former colleagues, then you'll probably be familiar with what Wells intends to accomplish by talking about Fleischer's deal: Call into question the credibility of the witness by suggesting that he may be telling more than he really knows in order to get a sweetheart deal from the governnment.

After explaining that Fleischer agreed to testify only after getting immunity, Wells listed the reasons that government witnesses might be less credible than the prosecution has suggested: Memories change, notes can affect recollections, and some witnesses may have their own agendas. This last bit, Wells made clear, was all about Fleischer.

"Some, like Mr. Fleischer, have credibility problems because they have an arrangement, they have a deal," Wells said, making it clear that when Fleischer takes the stand, he'll be treating him just like any other wiseguy.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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