WASHINGTON – Attorneys for former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby won’t know the specifics of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s unusual immunity-from-prosecution deal when Fleischer testifies against their client Monday.
A federal judge ruled that Fleischer’s agreement with prosecutors is not relevant to Libby’s perjury and obstruction defense. Libby’s attorneys believed Fleischer promised specific testimony against Libby in exchange for immunity — a deal they wanted to use to question Fleischer’s credibility.
Prosecutors normally require an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to grant immunity. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that he reluctantly gave Fleischer immunity without knowing specifics and believing only that the former top White House spokesman could help the investigation into who leaked a CIA’s operative’s name.
Fitzgerald gave U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton a summary of his conversations with Fleischer’s attorneys and Walton agreed that it didn’t need to be disclosed to Libby’s attorneys.
Fleischer was to begin his testimony later Monday after Vice President Dick Cheney’s former spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, leaves the stand.
Fleischer, who was the chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of
President Bush’s first term, will be a key witness against Libby. Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of a prominent Bush administration critic.
Libby says he was surprised to learn from NBC News reporter Tim Russert that Plame worked at the CIA. Anything he later told reporters about Plame was simply a repetition of what he learned from Russert, Libby said.
Fitzgerald’s first witnesses were government employees who testified that they told Libby about Plame days before the Russert conversation. Fleischer is expected to testify that Libby then relayed that information to him, also before Libby and Russert spoke.
As Fitzgerald said in his opening statement: “You can’t learn something on Thursday that you’re giving out on Monday.”
Fleischer acknowledged being one of the sources for the leaks Fitzgerald was investigating and defense attorneys want to cast him as an opportunist who cannot be trusted.
Prosecutors will counter that Fleischer sought immunity because he feared he did something wrong by talking to reporters about Plame. If they can hint that Libby felt the same way, it would suggest a possible motive for him to lie to investigators.
Nobody was ever charged with leaking Plame’s identity. Libby is the only person charged in the case.