WASHINGTON -- Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, recounted to a jury yesterday his experience at an unusual lunch on July 7, 2003, during which he said that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. passed on detailed information about the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative.
The lunch in the White House mess hall for senior staff took place three days before the date that Libby had sworn he first learned about the CIA officer, Valerie Wilson, from reporters.
Fleischer was the fifth prosecution witness to provide damaging testimony in the form of an account that conflicted with the version that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, told a grand jury and investigators.
Fleischer's day on the stand provided a riveting moment because of the detailed description of the conversation, which he said occurred in his last week at the White House and was the only time that Libby had ever asked him to lunch.
Fleischer said that after casual talk about his new career and the fact that he and Libby were both fans of the Miami Dolphins, the conversation turned to the controversy then swirling around whether President Bush had used false information in his State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Africa.
The day before the lunch, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, had written a commentary in The New York Times that said he had taken a trip to Niger in Africa at the behest of Cheney's office and determined that there was no truth to the assertion in the State of the Union speech that Saddam Hussein had recently tried to buy uranium ore in Africa.
"Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife," Fleischer testified that Libby told him, disputing the notion that he had been sent by Cheney. "His wife works for the CIA."
Fleischer also said that Libby used the woman's maiden name, Valerie Plame, and that she worked at the agency's bureau that dealt with efforts to curtail the proliferation of weapons.
"He said it was hush-hush, on the QT and that most people didn't know it," Fleischer testified.
Libby looked up occasionally at the witness and took notes.
Ms. Wilson's name was first disclosed publicly on July 14, 2003, in a column by Robert Novak.
That disclosure led to an investigation into the leak as administration critics charged that her identity was disclosed to discredit Wilson's charges. Neither Libby nor anyone else was charged in the end with violating the law in disclosing Ms. Wilson's identity. Novak's original source, Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, was not charged as prosecutors said he did not have the needed intention to violate the law.