It gets worse for Judith Miller

The defense team begins drawing blood.

Published January 30, 2007 9:45PM (EST)

Scooter Libby's defense team is finally drawing blood, and it belongs to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

It's hard to believe that Miller could look any worse than she did before walking into Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom this afternoon. Her prewar reporting on weapons of mass destruction has been the subject of intense debate and criticism, some of it emanating from inside the Times. She spent several months in jail to protect somebody who leaked the identity of a CIA agent for political gain. And once she got out of jail and started answering questions before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury, she forgot about a meeting with Scooter Libby -- a meeting in which, she subsequently testified, Libby told her that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. She lost her job at the Times -- she identified herself today as "a journalist, a freelance journalist" -- and when Times managing editor Jill Abramson was asked what she regretted about the paper's handling of Miller's case, her answer was: "The entire thing."

Now it's getting worse. William Jeffress is dismantling Miller on cross-examination, particularly about the June 23, 2003, meeting she now remembers having with Libby. There's no question that the meeting happened -- it's on Libby's calendar, and the notes Miller eventually found reflect it, albeit with the date listed as May 23, 2003. The question is what happened at the meeting, and that's the point on which Jeffress is pounding away.

Jeffress asks Miller if she "tried to be honest" when she testified before Fitzgerald's grand jury and failed to mention the June 23, 2003, meeting. "I didn't remember that it even occurred," she says. But she remembered later, she says, once she found her notes of it. Jeffress quotes back to Miller something she has said before -- that she doesn't have a "good memory" and is very "notes-driven." She says he's taking it out of context, that she doesn't have a good memory about some things, but that she does about others. "Notes bring to mind a memory, or they don't," she says. "Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't."

Jeffress notes that Miller has testified that Libby seemed "irritated" during their June 23 meeting. "How do your notes reflect your recollection that Mr. Libby was irrtitated?" he asks in a sneering tone. "Do they say 'irritated'"? "No," she says, "I was able to read [the notes], and that brought a memory of the meeting that day."

Miller acknowledges that she is "generally ... note-driven." She says she doesn't remember many of the specifics of the June 23 meeting, but that she does remember specifically that Libby used the word "bureau" to describe where Wilson's wife worked. It was a reference to the CIA's counterproliferation bureau, it turned out, but Miller says the reference "confused" her. "I have an independent memory of that," says.

Jeffress is laughing at her. "You remember 'bureau' clearly today, even though you forgot it ... even though you testified to the grand jury that there was no such meeting?" At another moment: "So you don't need your notes to remember that Mr. Libby said 'wife works in bureau' ... but you would need notes to know anything else about the meeting, is that fair?"

"No," Miller says. And to be fair, it's not fair. What Miller is saying is that now that she has seen her notes about the meeting, she has independent recollections of things that happened during the meeting -- despite the fact that she didn't remember the meeting at all during the months and months she spent fighting Fitzgerald's subpoena or sitting in jail in Alexandria. "I've thought a lot about those meetings," Miller says at one point, "and rereading the notes brought back those memories of the meetings."

Jeffress and Miller go back and forth on another question about her memory. They get lost in the weeds. Jeffress pauses dramatically, then asks, "Do you remember my question?" There is silence from the witness stand.

By Tim Grieve

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

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