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Former Journalist Jailed in Libby Case Testifies at Trial

By Neil A. Lewis
and Scott Shane
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Judith Miller, a former reporter for The New York Times, testified Tuesday as a witness for the prosecutor who had put her in jail for 85 days, recounting details of her once-confidential interviews with I. Lewis Libby Jr.

Miller had initially refused to cooperate with the government in its investigation of Libby, saying she would not violate her oath of confidentiality to the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. But the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, with the support of the federal courts, had her jailed until she relented. She asserted that Libby had released her from her vow of confidentiality.

As she began her testimony, she was calm and soft-voiced as she faced Fitzgerald — who is still investigating her in an unrelated case — and discussed three conversations she had in June and July of 2003 with Libby. Those conversations, in which Miller said an agitated and anxious Libby criticized the CIA and informed her of the identity of an agency operative named Valerie Wilson, are a significant part of the perjury and obstruction case against him.

It was only after Fitzgerald briskly concluded his questioning, and Miller found herself facing a caustic cross-examination from one of Libby’s defense lawyers, that her composure slowly withered. Under the questioning by William H. Jeffress Jr., who attacked her memory and credibility, she began to sigh frequently and grow testy in her responses.

Pressed about why she failed to remember an important June meeting with Libby during her first grand jury appearance, she said with her voice rising: “Counselor, I’ve already said I didn’t remember that meeting. I just didn’t remember.”

The day ended with an extraordinary argument by lawyers for both sides, as well as a lawyer for Miller, over whether Jeffress could ask her if she had other sources she spoke to about Wilson. The question, which was left unresolved by Judge Reggie M. Walton until Wednesday, threatened to derail the trial over the very constitutional issue that saw Miller go to jail in 2005.

Walton seemed disinclined to allow questions about Miller’s other sources. “I appreciate that there is an interest the media has in not having questions asked that aren’t germane to this case,” he said. But if he does allow them — and she refuses to answer — she could be held in contempt once again and a mistrial could result.

In her more than two hours on the stand, Miller became the focal point for an intense drama involving three people in the room — herself, Fitzpatrick and Libby. As she provided the testimony that was most damaging to Libby, he sat almost motionless in his chair about 20 feet away and stared at her.

Fitzgerald first took her through her June 23, 2003, meeting with Libby in the Old Executive Office Building. Libby, who she said was usually a low-key guy, “appeared to be agitated and frustrated.”

He was unhappy about growing public concern that President Bush had used inaccurate information in his most recent State of the Union speech, in which he said there was evidence that Saddam Hussein had recently tried to acquire uranium from Africa.