Reporter tells court how Libby revealed name of CIA agent

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The former New York Times reporter Judith Miller has provided damaging public testimony against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, the man on whose behalf she spent almost three months in jail in 2005.

Giving evidence in the second week of Mr Libby's trial for perjury, Ms Miller said he had told her, as early as 23 June 2003, that the wife of a leading critic of the Iraq war was a CIA employee.

Mr Libby is charged with lying under oath by telling a grand jury he only learnt of Valerie Plame's identity almost three weeks later, from another reporter.

The case ­ involving the most senior Bush official to face criminal proceedings and with its backdrop the controversy over Iraq ­ is the buzz of Washington, and provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most secretive administrations in US history.

It arose from publication in the press of Ms Plame's name on 14 July 2003, in what was at first widely seen as a leak by Bush/Cheney loyalists in retaliation against her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador. Just a few days earlier, Mr Wilson had publicly accused the Bush administration of distorting pre-war intelligence about Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear ambitions.

The deliberate leak of the identity of a CIA clandestine operative is a criminal offence here. Ultimately, however, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, levelled no such charges. Instead Mr Libby, one of the chief initial suspects, was accused of lying to the grand jury by claiming he only learnt about Ms Plame when he was informed about her CIA job by Tim Russert, a prominent political journalist, on 10 July.

Mr Russert, along with at least one more reporter, is due to give evidence against Mr Libby, before the defence calls its own witnesses. These will include Mr Cheney in what would be the first such appearance in a criminal trial by a sitting vice-president.

On Tuesday, Ms Miller was relaxed and often smiling as she recounted details to Mr Fitzgerald of her three meetings during the period with Mr Libby.

At the first, on 23 June 2003 in his office, she said the latter was " agitated, frustrated and angry" at CIA "backpedalling" from its pre-war assertions on WMD, and at what Mr Libby called a "perverted war of leaks" it was waging with the White House. On that occasion, she said he mentioned that Mr Wilson's wife worked in the CIA.

At a second meeting, a two-hour breakfast at a Washington hotel, he gave further details of Ms Plame's job. The two then talked again on 12 July ­ two days before Ms Plame's name was made public ­ when Ms Miller said she probably would not be writing an article about her.

Under cross-examination, however, Ms Miller quickly lost her composure as William Jeffress, an attorney for Mr Libby, zeroed in on her erratic memory. How was it, he asked, that she could now remember Mr Libby's demeanour that 23 June, when she forgot to mention it during her own testimony to the grand jury? Ms Miller finally gave that testimony in late 2005 after three months in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of her source, Mr Libby.

She said: "I didn't remember the [23 June] meeting when I was in jail." Saying she was "note-dependent", she said she only remembered the meeting when she found a notebook in a bag under her desk ­ after she appeared before the grand jury.