Ginsberg falsely claimed Post , Times offered conflicting accounts of Libby/Miller conversation

››› ››› SAM GILL

On the September 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Republican attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg falsely claimed that September 30 articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times gave differing accounts of July 2003 conversations between Times reporter Judith Miller and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame's role in a trip to Niger by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, to investigate alleged Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium.

Ginsberg initially claimed that, in contrast with the Times, the Post suggested that it was Miller -- not Libby -- who brought up the issue of how it came about that Wilson was sent to Niger. Ginsberg said that the Post "went for the notion that Judith Miller raised the question of why Joe Wilson was sent on the trip. ... [Libby] was not saying it was Valerie Plame." After host Chris Matthews pressed him on this claim, Ginsberg failed to further explain the distinction: "I don't want to take a quiz on what I remember from reading The Washington Post this morning. The point is, there were differing versions."

Ginsberg may be referring to the sequencing of the two accounts. While both papers noted that Miller and Libby had more than one conversation on the issue of the Wilson trip, the Post reported what was said in each conversation; the Times simply summarized what was discussed over the course of the two conversations. But the accounts match in a crucial respect -- both papers, citing unidentified sources, reported that Libby told Miller that Wilson's wife, who worked at the CIA, purportedly played a role in his being selected to make the trip to Africa to investigate reported Iraqi attempts to obtain nuclear materials there.

According to the September 30 Washingon Post article:

According to a source familiar with Libby's account of his conversations with Miller in July 2003, the subject of Wilson's wife came up on two occasions. In the first, on July 8, Miller met with Libby to interview him about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the source said.

At that time, she asked him why Wilson had been chosen to investigate questions Cheney had posed about whether Iraq tried to buy uranium in the African nation of Niger. Libby, the source familiar with his account said, told her that the White House was working with the CIA to find out more about Wilson's trip and how he was selected.

Libby told Miller he heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him but he did not know who she was or where she worked, the source said.

Libby had a second conversation with Miller on July 12 or July 13, the source said, in which he said he had learned that Wilson's wife had a role in sending him on the trip and that she worked for the CIA. Libby never knew Plame's name or that she was a covert operative, the source said.

The September 30 Times article does not diverge on any of the major facts:

According to someone who has been briefed on Mr. Libby's testimony and who believes that his statements show he did nothing wrong, Ms. Miller asked Mr. Libby during their conversations in July 2003 whether he knew Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who wrote an Op-Ed article in The Times on July 6, 2003, criticizing the Bush administration. Ms. Miller's lawyers declined to discuss the conversations.

Mr. Libby said that he did not know Mr. Wilson but that he had heard from the C.I.A. that the former ambassador's wife, an agency employee, might have had a role in arranging a trip that Mr. Wilson took to Africa on behalf of the agency to investigate reports of Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear material. Mr. Wilson's wife is Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Libby did not know her name or her position at the agency and therefore did not discuss these matters with Ms. Miller, the person who had been briefed on the matter said. Ms. Miller said she believed that the agreement between her lawyers and Mr. Fitzgerald "satisfies my obligation as a reporter to keep faith with my sources."

From the September 30 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

GINSBERG: I know that The New York Times and The Washington Post reported very different versions of what those conversations may have been like. And given the differences between the two, I think you can assume that we don't know what those conversations were.

MATTHEWS: OK, separate the two papers' reports as to what in fact Scooter Libby, for example, the person identified today in the grand jury testimony as the source to Judy Miller -- how was the account made differently in the Times and the Post?

GINSBERG: Well, the Post essentially went for the notion that Judith Miller raised the question of why Joe Wilson was sent on the trip. Scooter may or may not have known that. According to the Post account, as I remember it, he was not -- he was not saying it was Valerie Plame. And she --

MATTHEWS: What do you mean, he wasn't saying -- wasn't he saying it was his wife? Wasn't he saying it was his wife, in both cases?

GINSBERG: Well, whether he said -- no, I'm not sure that's what the Post reported. But I don't want to take a quiz on what I remember from reading The Washington Post this morning. The point is, there were differing versions, Chris, and if there are differing versions in America's two greatest newspapers, let's assume that we're not sure what those conversations were. That's what the Fitzgerald report will be about.

MATTHEWS: So you think it's possible -- you're arguing the possibility that despite the coverage, there is in fact no real evidence that Scooter Libby told Judy Miller of The New York Times that the person who got Joe Wilson sent on this trip to Niger to check out the uranium story was his wife? You're denying the essence of that?

GINSBERG: I'm arguing that we don't know what the conversations were. And I think it's unfair to be guessing that in conversations that we don't know what actually happened, to go out on the air and say somebody violated the law. That seems to me not to be the right way to go about this.

Ginsberg is also an adviser to the conservative advocacy group Progress for America.

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