From the Libby trial: Cheney, Libby freeze out Hadley

Hadley suggests leaking an NIE. Cheney and Libby don't say that they already have.

Published February 8, 2007 12:16AM (EST)

Patrick Fitzgerald's office has just released a virtual trunkload of grand jury transcripts and exhibits from the Scooter Libby case. Plamegate obsessives -- we'll count ourselves as honorary members of that group -- will spend the next few days rifling through it all for hints and clues and revealing scenes from inside the belly of the beast.

We've just begun the process, and we've immediately found ourselves taken by a snippet of Libby's grand jury testimony in which he walks Fitzgerald through notes from a meeting he had with Vice President Dick Cheney and then Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The subject: How to respond to the fact that 16 faulty words about Iraq and Niger ended up in the president's State of the Union address.

Libby, looking at his notes: ... this is Steve Hadley saying, no question, it's better if we leak the [National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq].

Fitzgerald: What does that mean?

Libby: Steve Hadley is saying that it would be better if we got the NIE out, and "leak" means telling it to -- giving it to a reporter to say, you know, here's something you can write about. It's like an exclusive or something like that.

Fitzgerald: And had the NIE been declassified at that point?

Libby: It had in the sense that the president had told me to go out and use it with Judith Miller. I don't, I don't know that Mr. Hadley knew that at that point.

Fitzgerald: OK. And did anyone decide to leak the NIE that week?

Libby: Well, the president had told me to use it and declassified it for me to use with Judith Miller. I don't think Mr. Hadley was told to go out and talk about it. I think Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice had talked about the NIE in general earlier in the week on television.

Fitzgerald: And so --

Libby: Well, some time. I'm not sure when it was.

Fitzgerald: So, prior to July 10th, you had talked to Judith Miller about the NIE?

Libby: Correct, sir.

Fitzgerald: And your understanding is that even though it was a classified document, the president had authorized you to talk to her about it?

Libby: Definitely, sir.

Fitzgerald: And then -- and do you know if anyone decided to share the NIE -- did you tell Mr. Hadley at the time that you had already in effect leaked the NIE by -- with the president's approval -- by telling Judith Miller?

Libby: I -- yeah, I don't know if it's leaking once it's declassified and you're told to do it. I had talked to Judith Miller about the NIE at the president's, you know, at, at the president's approval relayed to me through the vice president, and I did not tell Mr. Hadley at that time.

Fitzgerald: And was there any reason why you didn't tell Mr. Hadley that you had told Ms. Miller about the NIE?

Libby: I was sitting with the vice president. The vice president knew it and chose not to tell Mr. Hadley, and so I didn't change what he had done.

By Tim Grieve

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

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