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Libby Trial: Cathie Martin’s Testimony Damaging

The testimony of Cathie Martin has been by far the most damaging so far to Scooter Libby’s case. She is currently a Deputy Communications Secretary for the Bush White House and worked for Vice President Cheney during the period in question, so it will be difficult to impeach her credibility or motives.

Her testimony makes it clear that by July 7, 2003–a week before the publication of Bob Novak’s article made “Valerie Plame” a household name–the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with press accounts of an ambassador’s trip to Niger and that the vice president and Libby were intimately and repeatedly involved in trying to manage the spin on the story.

The main saving grace is that she can not recall much about the mention of Mrs. Wilson’s role in all this, including when Libby might have known. Still, it is now much harder for the defense to establish that the Wilson matter was just one of many things that concerned Libby and that it was therefore plausible he might have forgotten an incredibly important detail about the case.

Cross-examination will take place after lunch. It’s going to be interesting to see what tack the defense will take with someone obviously loyal to their client.

UPDATE: AP’s Matt Apuzzo has filed his report. His assessment: “Martin is the fourth person to describe conversations with Libby about Plame and demonstrated the best recollection of the group. She is also the closest witness to Cheney’s inner circle.

His casting of the introduction of the issue of “the wife” is right:

“We didn’t send him,” Martin recalled saying. “If we didn’t send him, you must’ve sent him. Who sent him?”

That’s when Martin said the CIA spokesman told her that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. She said she immediately told Cheney and Libby about it. She couldn’t pinpoint the date off the conversation but said it definitely took place no later than July 6. Libby says he learned Plame’s identity days later.

Cheney took a personal interest in the issue, Martin said, and in the following days dictated media “talking points” making it clear that his office was not responsible for the Wilson trip.

The talking points do not refer to Plame and nobody has been charged with leaking her identity.

My only quibble is the transition between the second and third paragraph in the excerpt. I asked Matt what he meant with “the issue,” and he says he means the issue of who initiated the trip; i.e., that it wasn’t the Vice President’s office. As written, though it might lead people to think it was Plame’s role. No testimony so far has given that impression.

UPDATE: The crux of the cross-examination seems to be to try to establish that Martin was not ready for prime time: She was hired with no press experience by Mary Matalin and quickly promoted when Matalin stepped down. This scandal broke out shortly thereafter and her crisis management was not only ineffective but openly mocked by journalists.

Given that she was promoted to a similar position in on the president’s team after the events in question, that’s a rather credulous charge. Further, I don’t think it’s a smart strategy from a standpoint of building rapport with the jury. She’s a solid witness, seems quite competent, and has obvious reasons to not wish to be the one responsible for sending Scooter Libby to jail.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Fliescher to answer questions from the press regarding Wilson’s column in the NY Times. Update: Here’s David Shuster’s report from Hardball [IMG video_wmv] Download (3178) | Play (2303) [IMG video_wmv] Download (1117) | Play (1285) From the right. OTB writes: Her testimony makes it clear that by July 7, 2003—a week before the publication of Bob Novak’s article made “Valerie Plame” a household name—the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with press accounts of an ambassador

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  2. LoneStarBear says:

    From the right. OTB writes: Her testimony makes it clear that by July 7, 2003—a week before the publication of Bob Novak’s article made “Valerie Plame” a household name—the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with press accounts of an ambassador’s trip to

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  3. said on the show regarding Joe Wilson. Cheney also wrote up talking points for Ari Fliescher to answer questions from the press regarding Wilson’s column in the NY Times. Update: Here’s David Shuster’s report from Hardball LINK From the right. OTB writes: Her testimony makes it clear that by July 7, 2003—a week before the publication of Bob Novak’s article made “Valerie Plame” a household name—the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with press accounts of an ambassador’s trip to Niger and

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  4. Fliescher to answer questions from the press regarding Wilson’s column in the NY Times. Update: Here’s David Shuster’s report from Hardball [IMG video_wmv] Download (1784) | Play (1284) [IMG video_wmv] Download (729) | Play (797) From the right. OTB writes: Her testimony makes it clear that by July 7, 2003—a week before the publication of Bob Novak’s article made “Valerie Plame” a household name—the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with press accounts of an ambassador

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  5. Crooks and Liars: Crooks and Liars- Libby trial: McClellan Talks Libby Leak on The Daily Show OTB-Libby Trial: Libby Trial: Cathie Martin’s Testimony Damaging OTB-Libby Trial: Libby Prosecution: Cathie Martin Testimony OTB-Libby Trial: Libby Prosecution: Craig Schmall Testimony (Pt. 2) OTB-Libby Trial: Libby Trial: Subtle Distinctions in Guilt or Innocence

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  6. plausible he might have forgotten an incredibly important detail about the case. Cross-examination will take place after lunch. It’s going to be interesting to see what tack the defense will take with someone obviously loyal to their client. Link Technorati Tags: Libby

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  7. Boyd says:

    …he might have forgotten an incredibly important detail about the case.

    But was it considered “incredibly important” at the time?

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  8. James Joyner says:

    Certainly, it was much more important once it came out that her status was highly classified. Still, the fact that his wife was behind the trip would seem to be odd enough that it would stick in your mind.

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  9. paul lukasiak says:

    The main saving grace is that she can not recall much about mention of Mrs. Wilson’s role in all this, including when Libby might have known.

    according to Marcy (doing play by play at FDL) after she talked to Harlow the first time, she went into the VP’s office — Libby was there. Martin told Libby (and one assumes, Cheney) that Harlow “told me Ambassador’s name and apparently he was a charge and his wife works at CIA. Don’t remember any specific response.
    ” (quoting Marcy, who is probably paraphrasing Martin’s testimony here)

    Martin here is talking about the conversation that Grenier described in his testimony.

    Unanswered questions — did Grenier witness Harlow telling Martin about Wilson’s wife? How did Harlow know — did Grenier tell him? Could that be the source of Grenier’s guilt — not that he’d told Libby (who had clearances up the butt) or Harlow (who also had clearances up the butt) but that Harlow told “a woman” — obviously someone that Grenier didn’t know — so he didn’t know if she had clearances or not.

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  10. I fail to see why any of her testimony harms Libby. Look at the talking points; one clearly says they’re wanting to get out that there are some false statements out there that need to be corrected.

    There’s nothing there at all about Wilson’s wife, or anything at all illegitimate. That the wife was with the CIA looks like background that no one was paying attention to.

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  11. jwest says:

    I agree with Pat Sullivan.

    Nothing in this first exchange even remotely damaging to Libby. In fact, it shows the VP’s office concerned only with getting the truth out to the public.

    This testimony is establishing in the jury’s mind that Wilson was not what the press made him out to be. Wilson/Bad = Libby/Good.

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  12. Cecil Turner says:

    Nobody disputes Libby was closely focused on Wilson. That was his job. He’d been designated as point man to answer the allegations, and the Administration was taking the very major step of declassifying the National Intelligence Estimate in response.

    The dispute is whether the “wife sent him” detail was important. And all the evidence so far (including Martin’s) suggest it was not. In fact, not one of the witnesses so far has any clear recollection of discussing it.) Fitzgerald tends to lump the two (Wilson allegations and “his wife works at CIA”) into one subject . . . but it should be obvious from the testimony so far that is not valid. This one didn’t hurt Libby.

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  13. paul lukasiak says:

    The dispute is whether the “wife sent him” detail was important. And all the evidence so far (including Martin’s) suggest it was not.

    actually, all the evidence so far suggests that it WAS important to everyone who knew about it. Grossman thought it was important enough to pass on to Libby. Grenier (apparently) thought it was important enough to pass onto Libby. Harlow thought it was important enough to pass onto Martin. Martin thought it was important enough to pass onto Libby.

    what may be really damaging to the administration (not to mention the case itself) is that it has been established that Martin is in the VP’s office telling Libby (and one presumes, Cheney) about Wilson’s wife working for the CIA… and (according to the indictment) the very next day Cheney tells Libby that Plame worked in the Counter-Proliferation Division of the CIA (and that Cheney got this info from the CIA).

    Its not difficult to see a narrative developing here — Cheney hears from Martin that Plame works for the CIA… Cheney wants more details and calls up someone at the CIA and finds out that Plame is CPD (i.e. covert operations division) and relates that infomation to Libby….

    ….and Libby forgets about it?

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  14. madmatt says:

    exactly how many covert cia agents would they be willing to out to serve their own interests?

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  15. Libby Jury Is Chosen; Arguments Set to Start…

    A federal judge empaneled a jury yesterday in the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, seatin…

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  16. paul lukasiak says:

    one other thing…

    the stuff about Martin going to the VP’s office and telling Libby (and Cheney?) about Valerie…

    its NOT part of the narrative in the indictment. This is something that Fitz held back from the public for some reason….

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  17. Wayne says:

    Paul
    You assume much. I heard many people today comment on how nice the day is. It must be important. I’m sure everyone will remember the weather today a year from now since it is so important that everyone seems to mention it.

    There are many many people at the CPD of CIA that are not covert. The fact that Plame was not in a covert role has been established but is still being ignored by the left.

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  18. boris says:

    Suggest the CIA spokesman did not actually say “It was his wife Valerie Plame who sent him, the CIA had nothing to do with it”. It probably went more like this …

    CIA: “Yeah we sent Wilson … ”

    Martin: “Why him instead of an agent?”

    CIA: “Well his wife works here and he knows the region and we used him once before”

    That presentation would not indicate any importance to “the wife” at all. That some witnesses in hindsight based on MSM hype reconstruct “memories” considering that detail so important that they Must Have Mentioned it is less than persuasive, especially when not having an independent memory of doing so.

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  19. The one thing that hasn’t been said about Mrs Wilson is that she is IMPORTANT. We’ve heard odd, interesting, inappropriate, not important. And that is what Fitz has to prove, just to get to first base.

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  20. Hal says:

    And that is what Fitz has to prove, just to get to first base.

    I’m literally stunned that this obvious misunderstanding is still here. This is a perjury trial, not a trial regarding whether Libby broke the law regarding revealing her identity.

    Mrs. Wilson’s importance to this case is literally zero. All that matters is whether it can be proved that Libby knowingly lied or not.

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  21. ‘Mrs. Wilson’s importance to this case is literally zero. ‘

    Agreed. Thus Libby had no reason to lie about her. Too bad Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to realize that.

    As to the cross examination, it’s showing just what the cross of Grossman and Grenier did; Libby didn’t care about ‘the wife’. Thus, he has no motive to lie, and any misstatements about her are innocent mistakes of memory.

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  22. Tim says:

    Cathie Martin is not an inexperienced person. She was Lynne Cheney’s assistant in the campaign to cut off arts funding as well as whitewash US textbooks.

    How can anyone ignore Kevin Martin’s agenda to turn out the lights at the FCC. His own background was as legal counsel to impeach Clinton, and then at the vote-counting debacle in Florida.

    What could have been seen as a simple appointment as a political hack, takes on a sinister light when you consider the election of a President through saturation propaganda.

    How do we start the process of impeaching Kevin Martin.

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  23. Anderson says:

    What a fantasy world some people live in.

    Valerie Wilson was “important” insofar as she (& her alleged role in sending Joe Wilson to Niger) could be used to discredit Wilson & perhaps the CIA as well.

    How hard is that?

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  24. ‘Valerie Wilson was “important” insofar as she (& her alleged role in sending Joe Wilson to Niger) could be used to discredit Wilson & perhaps the CIA as well.

    ‘How hard is that?’

    Very hard for any of the four witnesses. Only Cathie Martin even raised the issue, and she said she thought it was ‘useful’, not ‘important’.

    Worse for Fitzgerald’s case, she can’t even remember Libby or Cheney agreeing with her about it. Trials are about evidence, and Fitzgerald has been singularly unimpressive in producing any to this point.

    Even Fitz’s big coup (he thought) that Martin hadn’t heard Libby say, ‘We’re hearing that from reporters.’, disappeared during cross examination. Martin didn’t hear all the conversation. She took a cell phone call during Libby and Cooper’s conversation and missed part of it.

    If this was a prizefight the referee would stop it.

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  25. Cecil Turner says:

    Worse for Fitzgerald’s case, she can’t even remember Libby or Cheney agreeing with her about it.

    Even worse, they have written versions of the media strategy, and “Plame” isn’t on them. They discussed responses with CIA (Grenier), and agreed to “the CIA sent her” (very publicly disseminated by George Tenet on July 11th). And there’s no indication they did actually leak. Nice speculation, but the evidence suggests it didn’t happen that way.

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  26. Patrick says:

    I posted this at Maguire’s: The big caveat is that James is seeing this, I am reading it, so FWIW:

    I read James Joyner’s update on Martin. He seems to think the Defense is focusing on Martin’s inexperience in a substantial press role. I see it differently.

    First, they establish that Libby called Cooper at her behest, and that they did not discuss Wilson. This helps eliminate motive.

    Additionally, she states that throughout the relevant time, there was only one, rather offhand comment about Wilson’s wife. Nothing that would necessarily stikc in Libby’s mind, undercutting Fitz’s theory that this was a major point of focus that Libby was unlikely to forget.

    Next, Wells uses her to defend the big case, i.e. the administration (let’s be real, this is prosecution by proxy for the war, and that is why the left still loves it even after Rove escaped prosecution) did not lie in the run up to the war.

    I just don’t think she damaged Libby as much as James thinks. More proof of that is the FDL comments which focus on sophmoric jokes about Ari Fleisher in the bathroom rather than any bombshells from her testimony.

    Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard. I think Fitz has to push a lot harder and get more unequivocal testimony from his witnesses. I suppose having several witnesses say they told Libby about Wilson’s wife gives him some reason to bring the case, but in a charged atmosphere, you would think he would probe his favorable witnesses a little harder than Nifong did.

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  27. Anderson says:

    Trials are about evidence, and Fitzgerald has been singularly unimpressive in producing any to this point.

    Motive can be inferred, and apparently the prosecutors think they have evidence that Libby destroyed documents that might go to motive.

    People get sentenced to death on such inferences.

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  28. bain says:

    Apparently denile ain’t just a river in Egypt.

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  29. paul lukasiak says:

    the “Maguire-ites” can’t see the forest for the trees….

    This is a trial about perjury and obstruction of justice. The jury is going to be asked if they believe that Irving Libby actually forgot that “Joe Wilson had a wife”, and that when Tim Russert (supposedly) told him about Valerie’s involvement, it was “as if for the first time.”

    Cathie Martin’s testimony is devastating for one simple reason — the DAY before Irving Libby’s boss (Dick Cheney) told Irving that Valerie Wilson worked for the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA’s Covert Operations Section, Cathie told both of them that Valerie worked for the CIA. (and Martin’s own notes describe Valerie as a CIA agent)

    In other words, Cheney’s disclosure to Libby — the disclosure that Libby supposedly “forgot” before supposedly hearing about Valerie from Russert — was not an isolated fact, but the result of Dick Cheney following up on what Cathie Martin had told him the day before.

    The fact that “Joe Wilson’s wife” was involved in his trip to Niger was something that Dick Cheney cared about — and no one is going to believe that Irving Libby completely forgot about something like this when it was important to his boss…..

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  30. clarice says:

    James, you did a wonderful job, but you missed this.
    Part of Fitz’ theory is that when Cheney tasked Libby to answer it was a sign that the big “outing” conspiracy was on, but Martin is testifying that everything she tried to do wasn’t working–the press continued to print the storyline that “Bush lied”. Given that, how odd is it that instead of using this new pressie who was getting nowhere, he’d go higher up the ladder and tap Libby to try?
    This was a very damaging charge against the Administration and it was important to have their most effective spokesperson answering it.

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  31. clarice says:

    And from Rick Ballard, another JOM’er:
    “It’s interesting that the VP’s flack didn’t see a usable angle about Val but when Fleischer got handed the DoS generated INR memo he immediately caught the boondoggle aspect and babbled like a moron, noticed that he’d put himself in jeopardy after Ashcroft wilted, cut a deal with Darth Fitz and viola – no problems for him.

    So, Fleischer babbles and Armitage goes to the extreme of picking out Novak to pimp the State version, throws himself on the forgiving Fitz’s mercy…

    and Libby gets indicted.

    I don’t like Fitz very much”

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  32. bain says:

    and Libby gets indicted.

    I don’t like Fitz very much”

    Posted by clarice at January 25, 2007 21:58 Permalink

    Clarice – you seem to have it hard for Fitzie. Got a crush? Unrequited love … so hard.

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  33. Slartibartfasts says:

    apparently the prosecutors think they have evidence that Libby destroyed documents that might go to motive

    Is there anyone credible who’s claiming that Libby destroyed evidence? Did I miss something, or is this the trope that would not die?

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  34. James Joyner says:

    Is there anyone credible who’s claiming that Libby destroyed evidence? Did I miss something, or is this the trope that would not die?

    The latter. It was strained reporting by MSNBC’s David Schuster that even his NBC colleagues in the room immediately walked away from.

    Fitzgerald used some confusing language in his opening that could have been read that way but only Schuster seems to have done so. Given how repetitive lawyers are, it’s incredible that he would mention something so crucial only in passing. And not charge him with it.

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  35. MBA Libby Trial Conservative Round-up 02-06-07…

    I have to tell you the Conservative Blogosphere is very quiet on this trial right now. I personally don’t understand how you can put a persons memory on trial, but that is just me.
    Outside The Beltway opines:
    The testimony of Cathie Martin has be…

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