Former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper testified Wednesday that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told him in 2003 that he had "heard" that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. While he didn't ask Libby where he had gotten that information, Cooper said, he took it as fact.
On direct examination by the prosecution, Cooper deconstructed his July 12, 2003 conversation with Libby. The reporter said he had reached out to the then-top aide to Vice President Cheney for a story that was going to press that night.
Cooper said that Libby reached him at home and gave him an on-the-record statement that Cheney did not know about Ambassador Wilson's trip to Niger which subsequently engendered Wilson's claim that Iraq had not purchased uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country. This claim, of course, rebutted President Bush's argument for invading Iraq in the 2003 State of the Union address.
Cooper described the conversation as one in which Libby was eager to get off the phone. It seemed that "Libby really only wanted to give the on-the-record statement" and that was all. However, Cooper said he kept Libby on the phone long enough to confirm, off the record, what he had heard about Wilson's wife working for the CIA. Libby did not mention the terms "covert" or "classified" during that conversation, Cooper said.
During his testimony, Cooper also laid out how he had initially heard about Wilson's wife in a conversation with Karl Rove on July 11, 2003. Once he was connected to Rove by the White House switchboard, Cooper said he told Rove he was interested in the controversial "16 words" in the State of the Union address that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Cooper said that Rove said, "Don't go too far out on Wilson," explaining that the vice president had not sent Wilson to Niger but that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, had. Rove also had mentioned "the agency," referring to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in the discussion of Wilson's wife, according to Cooper.
On cross examination, defense attorney Bill Jeffress asked Cooper if he recalled Libby "dissing" Wilson in their July 12 conversation.
"Only as far as distancing [the Vice President's office] from his [Wilson's] trip," Cooper replied. He added that "Libby raised questions about Wilson's methodology" on the trip in Niger.
In a bizarre bout of cross-examination choreography, Jeffress fixated on Cooper's note-taking, asking if he had often made the mistake of typing "r" when he meant to type "n." Citing a few examples from Cooper's notes where he had made such an error, Jeffress then focused on a line from Cooper's notes of the Libby conversation that said: "about the Wilson thing and not sure if it's ever." Jeffress asked Cooper if perhaps he had intended to write "even" instead of "ever," possibly modifying Libby's sentiments. It appeared that no definitive conclusion was reached on this point.
Towards the end of Cooper's testimony, he explained that he had been "struck by the contradiction" that the Bush Administration would concede that the controversial "16 words" about uranium shouldn't have been in the State of the Union, yet Wilson, whose work precipitated that admission, was then discredited.
"I find it implausible," Cooper said, that the Bush Administration would have regretted using the fateful "16 words" in the speech if Wilson had not gone public with his Niger trip findings in a New York Times op-ed column and an appearance on Meet the Press in 2003.
FBI agent Deborah Bond is due to take the witness stand next. The prosecution's case is slated to conclude next Monday or Tuesday.