By MATT APUZZO
The man who took I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s seat as the vice president’s national security adviser may soon be taking Libby’s seat in the witness stand.
Defense attorneys say they plan to call John Hannah, who served as Libby’s deputy and was promoted to replace him when Libby was indicted in 2005 on perjury and obstruction charges.
Hannah’s testimony could effectively serve as a sit-in for Libby, whom attorneys seem reluctant to put on the stand. The attorneys want to make the case that any misstatements Libby made to investigators were the product of a faulty memory, not lies.
To do that, they want to tell jurors about many of the classified national security discussions Libby was having in mid-2003, when CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity was leaked to reporters during the early months of the Iraq war.
Libby originally said he planned to testify about this heavy workload himself. By putting Hannah on the stand, defense attorney John Cline can bring out the national security issues that weighed on Libby’s mind without subjecting him to dangerous cross-examination.
Cline said Monday that he also plans to call three CIA briefers to discuss the secret intelligence information they provided Libby each morning.
The more information attorneys can get out through these witnesses, the less likely it is that Libby or Cheney will testify. Defense attorney Theodore Wells pledged in December to call Cheney but has since backed away from that.
Courthouse officials have been discussing possible security plans in preparation for Cheney’s testimony and, in a Jan. 24 interview with CNN, Cheney said he was “going to be a witness in that trial within a matter of weeks.”
Libby’s attorneys will have to make a decision on that soon. Cheney is scheduled to leave for Asia next week.
During their first batch of witnesses Monday, defense attorneys called some of the nation’s most well-known journalists to testify about their discussions with Bush administration officials regarding Plame.
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testified he learned about Plame, the wife of former ambassador and prominent war critic Joseph Wilson, from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. The Post’s Bob Woodward and syndicated columnist Robert Novak testified they heard it from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
As for Libby, both Novak and New York Times reporter David Sanger testified that they separately interviewed him and that he never discussed Plame.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Libby learned Plame’s identity from Cheney and other officials, then discussed it with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Libby says he never revealed it to Miller and says he only told Cooper what he had heard from another reporter, NBC’s Tim Russert.
Defense attorneys say Libby had no reason to lie. Why, they ask, would he out Plame to Miller and not take the opportunity to do the same in interviews with Sanger and Novak?
Defense attorneys have not indicated the order of their witnesses but plan to continue calling journalists Tuesday. New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson is expected to rebut some of Miller’s testimony. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is also due in court but a judge has limited what she can be asked about inconsistent statement’s she’s made regarding Plame.
Associated Press Writer Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this report.
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