Fleischer: Libby told me about Plame "on the q.t."

The former White House press secretary contradicts Libby's claim that he first learned about Joe Wilson's wife from Tim Russert.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 29, 2007 5:33PM (EST)

Scooter Libby told Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury back in 2004 that he first learned that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA when Tim Russert told him as much on or about July 10, 2003.

Ari Fleischer says it's not so.

Testifying this morning in Libby's perjury trial, Fleischer said that Libby told him on July 7, 2003, that Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife and that his wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the CIA. "I think that he told me her name," Fleischer said.

Fleischer said that Libby told him the information was "hush-hush" and "on the q.t." He said he didn't know what Libby meant by that, but he interpreted it -- see if you can follow this -- as meaning that the information was "kind of newsy."

Fleischer seemed nervous as he took the stand -- indeed, he was nervous enough that he insisted on getting immunity before answering questions in front of Fitzgerald's grand jury -- but he warmed to the job after a few minutes, describing events at the White House in the mildly condescending manner of a tour guide talking to a school group: The press secretary speaks for the president and has "all sorts of meetings with reporters"; the State of the Union address is a "very important event" where the president can "define what he seeks to do"; in the White House basement, there are "two messes" where staff members can meet and eat.

Fleischer said it was over lunch in one of those messes that Libby first told him about Wilson's wife. Wilson's New York Times Op-Ed was one of three subjects of conversation that day, Fleischer said. The other two? Fleischer's future -- he had already announced that he was leaving the White House -- and the Miami Dolphins.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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