Cheney Aide: Libby's Memory Spotty

John Hannah, Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser, leaves U.S. Federal Court in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007, after testifying in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial. AP

Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser on Tuesday described his predecessor, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as someone responsible for the nation's most sensitive intelligence but whose memory was notoriously spotty.

John Hannah, who served as Libby's deputy in 2003 and 2004, described a workday that began with a highly classified CIA briefing and continued at breakneck speed from one top-level meeting to the next.

Libby is on trial for lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby says he didn't lie but rather was too focused on more lofty issues to remember conversations he had with reporters regarding Plame.

"He was the key person talking about and helping advise the vice president on issues of homeland security," Hannah testified.

Hannah is a critical defense witness because he bolsters Libby's argument that he was focused on terrorist threats, foreign intelligence and war planning. And when it came to remembering things in such a fast-paced environment, Hannah said, Libby frequently faltered.

"On certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory," Hannah said.

He described briefing Libby on policy decisions and strategies in the morning, only to have Libby excitedly repeat them back to him that evening as if they were new.

"It would often be the case where he was quite good at remembering ideas and concepts and very bad at figuring out how those ideas came to him," Hannah said.

That anecdote seemed to sum up much of the flavor of the perjury and obstruction trial; Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Libby learned about Plame, the wife of prominent war critic and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, from Cheney and other officials. Libby repeated that information to reporters, Fitzgerald said, then concocted a story about learning it from another journalist to shield himself from prosecution.

For his part, Libby says he genuinely forgot that the information came from Cheney and, when he heard about Plame a month later from NBC's Tim Russert, it seemed like new information, which he relayed to other reporters simply as chatter.

Hannah's most important role may be as a sit-in for Libby. Defense attorneys originally said Libby planned to testify about all the classified information he was handling at the time. They have since backed away from that.

Hannah offered defense attorneys a much safer alternative. Without subjecting Libby to cross-examination, Hannah described Libby tracking terrorist threats, a diplomatic crisis in Turkey and nuclear programs in Pakistan and Iran. Libby also assessed the nation's plan for responding to a biological attack, determined it to be insufficient and recommended changes, Hannah said.

Fitzgerald noted that, even during that busy schedule, Libby found time to meet with New York Times reporter Judith Miller in June 2003. During that meeting, Miller said, Libby told her Plame worked for the CIA.

"If he gave someone an hour or two during that week, it would be something Mr. Libby thought was important," Fitzgerald said during cross-examination.

Earlier Tuesday, New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson testified that she could not back up Miller's testimony. Miller said that, after he meeting with Libby, she went to Abramson and suggested the Times look into Plame.

"Did Judith Miller come to you to recommend the New York Times pursue a story about whether Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA?" defense attorney William Jeffress asked.

"I have no recollection of such a conversation," Abramson replied.

Abramson was one of several journalists who testified in the trial. On Monday, defense attorneys called some of the nation's most well-known journalists to discuss their interviews with Bush administration officials regarding Plame.

Neither Abramson nor the other reporters directly undercut Fitzgerald's case. They provided fodder, however, for defense attorneys to argue that Plame's name was circulating widely among reporters and Bush administration officials.
  • Alfonso Serrano

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