Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

What Does Judith Miller Remember?
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Jan. 30 2007 8:09 PM

Dispatches From the Scooter Libby Trial

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Former New York Times reporter Judy Miller (R) and her lawyer Bob Bennett (L). Click image to expand.
Former New York Times reporter Judy Miller (right) and her lawyer Bob Bennett

Today, Scooter Libby's lawyer William Jeffress was so frustrated with Judy Miller I thought he'd yell liar, liar, pants on fire. The former New York Times reporter had presented detailed accounts of three conversations with Libby during the prosecution's questioning, but during the defense cross examination, she seemed incapable of remembering much of anything. Jeffress kept pressing her. "Do you remember my question?" he snapped at one point. Miller sighed. She apparently didn't.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

There are nine women on the jury. Scooter Libby's defense team better hope they don't have strong sisterhood feelings because Jeffress' thinly veiled condescension was enough to create sympathy for Miller. In Washington, that's like creating cold fusion. Miller's reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been renounced by her former paper. Her role in the Libby affair led to a very public spat that ended in her departure.

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But most of the members of the jury don't know all of that. Only one, a former Washington Post reporter, is a news junkie. What the jury saw was a small woman in a black velvet jacket dabbing her runny nose with a tissue. Maureen Dowd called her the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp, but by the end of the day she was looking more like Amelia Sedley.

What prosecutors are trying to show with Miller's testimony, as they had with the previous six witnesses, is that Libby knew about the CIA ties of Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson's wife, well before his conversation with Tim Russert, which Libby said jogged his memory on the point. Two of the three conversations Miller had with Libby took place before his conversation with Russert. Miller recalled that at their first meeting Libby told her Wilson's wife worked in the "bureau." She initially thought he meant the FBI, but "through the context of the discussion, I quickly determined it to be the CIA."

The key defense effort to undermine Miller zoomed in on that first meeting with Libby on June 23, 2003. On her original trip to the grand jury, wasn't she so fuzzy about the meeting that she forgot that it even took place? As the exchanges became testy, Miller called Jeffress "sir" more often. She insisted that rereading her notes (found in a bag under her desk after the grand jury appearance) "bought back these memories" of June 23.

A main pillar of Libby's defense is that he was too busy to remember what he did and didn't know about the identity of Joe Wilson's wife. Miller, too, has depicted herself as too preoccupied to bother with such details. Libby's lawyers played a clip from her January 2006 appearance on the program Digital Age, in which Miller said, "I had so much work in front of me … all of this only became important after, when this whole thing blew up." This mirrors Libby's defense claim that his schedule muddled his memory almost exactly.

The day ended as this trial always seems to, with lawyers from both sides bickering over procedural rules. Defense lawyers were trying to question Miller about her other sources. They didn't think she could name any and hoped by showing so in court they would further undermine her credibility. "This is nothing more than classic 101 impeachment," said Ted Wells, Libby's lead lawyer, arguing that the judge should give him leeway to pursue this line of questioning. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Wells was on a fishing expedition. Wells shot back that he didn't think Miller had any sources. Fitzgerald came back so fast the judge told him to ease up. "I apologize; I'll take a time out," said the prosecutor. Then he charged that Wells was trying to expand the questioning so broadly that it would include Bush's reason for going to war in Iraq. "If that's going to be tried in this trial we've got to bring cots," Fitzgerald quipped. In a walk-on role, Washington superlawyer Bob Bennett, who represents Miller, took Fitzgerald's side. "They're not going to get this gem they think they're going to get," he said of the defense, "because she does have other sources." The judge cut off the debate with a gem of his own: "I've got to get out of here." Judy and the bickering will continue tomorrow.

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