Well. Mickey Kaus gave a very plausible answer to this a few weeks back:
kf hears, through trustworthy and knowledgeable sources, that in his conversation with Russert Libby gave vent to the archetypal (and wrongheaded) charge that Matthews was animated by anti-Semitism--presumably because Matthews talked a lot about "neoconservative" Bush aides and war supporters and interviewed guests (such as Pat Caddell) who did too.
If that was Libby's complaint, it would help explain why NBC wanted to keep quiet about its exact contents. Not only does it potentially bring up a wild, hard-to-refute issue that the network would rather not have to deal with--but Libby's jag is also something you wouldn't forget, or make up, which would make Russert's testimony extremely convincing at trial. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have wanted to keep it secret so it would have as much of an impact as possible, and Russert may be trying to honor a request from the prosecutor.
Let me run with that and toss in some wild speculation you have seen nowhere else. I am not sure it would come out at trial, but it strikes me as plausible and relevant to the broader question of Libby's motives with respect to Joe Wilson.
Two leading questions will mark my course - first, is there any reason to think that it was only Chris Matthews that struck the "anti-neocon = anti-Semite" nerve in Libby, or is it a reasonable guess that Libby considered others to be anti-Semites as well?
And secondly, what was it with Libby and Joe Wilson?
You can guess the rest - some old appearances of Wilson at least allude to the sort of dual-loyalty issue that seems to be a part of the neocon/anti-Semitism debate. I run them below. And let's be crystal-clear: I am *NOT* alleging that Joe Wilson, Chris Matthews, or anyone else is anti-Semitic. I am speculating that Lewis Libby may have thought so.
Per an old LA Times story, Libby's interest in Wilson seemed to be excessive even to others at the White House:
Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was so angry about the public statements of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a Bush administration critic married to an undercover CIA officer, that he monitored all of Wilson's television appearances and urged the White House to mount an aggressive public campaign against him, former aides say.
...Libby pressed the administration to publicly counter Wilson, sparking a debate with other White House officials who thought the tactic would call more attention to the former diplomat and his criticisms. That debate ended after an April 2004 meeting in the office of White House Communications Director Daniel Bartlett, when staffers were told "don't engage" Wilson, according to notes taken during the meeting by one person present.
Why so angry? The obvious answer would be that Cheney's office marshalled the case for war, and it was Cheney's office that was anonymously attacked by Wilson in the early Kristof columns.
But there were other folks in Cheney's office that should have felt similarly threatened. Might Libby have been motivated by something else?
Let's try a different tack - Wilson claims that it was a Wilson appearance on PBS in Feb 2003 that caught the eye of the White House. Fitzgerald, in his indictment, dated the interest in Wilson to the May 6 Kristof column.
But let's unite the theories! Per this LA Times piece above, Libby gathered up reports on Wilson's writings and public appearances (Yes, the LA Times says it was after Wilson's book, but that makes no sense at all). So, perhaps Libby first took an interest in Wilson after May 6, but let it be known that he considered Wilson's Feb PBS appearance to be important.
Well, then - is there anything in the Wilson appearance on PBS that might be viewed as anti-Semitism? Does Wilson raise the dual loyalty issue?
Let me repeat - I am *NOT* endorsing the "Anti-neocon = anti-Semite" reasoning. Republicans have grown accustomed to hearing that anyone opposed to affirmative action is a racist, as proven by the fact that some affirmative action opponents are racist. That argument does not impress me either. However, if the anti-neocon argument resonated with Libby, let's see where it takes us.
This is from Wilson's PBS appearance in Feb 2003:
MOYERS: Tell me what you think about the arguments of one of those men, Richard Perle, who is perhaps the most influential advocate in the President's and the administration's ear arguing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. What do you think about his argument?
WILSON: Well, he's certainly the architect of a study that was produced in the mid-'90s for the Likud Israeli government called "a clean break, a new strategy for the realm." And it makes the argument that the best way to secure Israeli security is through the changing of some of these regimes beginning with Iraq and also including Syria. And that's been since expanded to include Iran.
MOYERS: So this was drawn up during the '90s…
WILSON: Right. During the '90s, absolutely.
MOYERS: By men outside of all this?
WILSON: Outside of all this, yeah.
WILSON: Now, Richard Perle's been outside of office since the Reagan years.
MOYERS: And this, you're saying that this has become a blueprint for the Bush Administration?
WILSON: Well, I think this is part of what has been the underpinning of the-- of the philosophical argument that calls for basically radically changing the political dynamics in the Middle East and…
MOYERS: To favor Israel?
WILSON: Well, to favor American national security interests and Israeli national security interests which are tied. I mean, we have…
MOYERS: How so?
WILSON: We have an important strategic responsibility to ensure the territorial integrity of Israel. It's one that we've accepted since 1948. It's one that's been increasingly close. There are those who believe that perhaps we've confused our responsibilities with the slavish adherence to the Likud strategy.
MOYERS: Likud, the party.
WILSON: It's the party in power right now. And certainly when the President or when Sharon comes — the Prime Minister comes to Washington and says that George Bush is the best friend that Israel ever had. And George Bush calls him a man of peace, calls Sharon a man of peace, there are those who wonder about the depth of our ties and the extent to which our national security responsibilities may somehow be confused with our support for the current government in Israel.
MOYERS: So help us understand why removing Saddam Hussein and expanding that movement, throughout the Middle East which would benefit Israel?
WILSON: Well, I think those are the sorts of questions that you need to ask to Richard Perle. The argument that I would make…
MOYERS: We asked him but he didn't want to come on the show.
Now, I am having a hard time conjuring some empathy with Lewis Libby, and I am having a hard time imagining whether that sounded like a "dual loyalties" attack on supporters of the war against Iraq. Was Wilson speaking in a code that Libby and folks like David Brooks understood to be anti-Semitic?
Or, since Wilson had been at the State Department for years, had he left behind a reputation for being an Arabist?
Maybe someone could ask Libby. Meanwhile, check this Wilson appearance on Buchanan and Press from Feb 18, 2003 (via Lexis):
BUCHANAN: All right, now, what do you think the president's objective is? He says, we're going to disarm this guy or I'm going to do it. And you say it's looking like a war of invasion, of conquest, of occupation, of reorientation.
What do you think the administration's real objective is? Because, if it is the second,one, they are going to look for a pretext to get the job done, whether he gives up more weapons or whatever he's doing.
WILSON: I believe the president's objective is the national security of the country. I take him at his word on that. And I believe him when he says that disarming Saddam is absolutely key to the national security of the country. I do believe, however, that those around him who have said that, you cannot disarm Saddam without invading and subsequently occupying the country, I doubt their motives.
He doubts their motives? More code? A bit later, Press addresses this more directly:
PRESS: ...Mr. Ambassador, I want to ask you maybe about the bigger picture here that's going on, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel quoted this morning as saying that -- yesterday said: "Iran, Libya, and Syria should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction next after Iraq. They're also threats after the United States takes care of Iraq."
He's implying that the United States should take care of Iran, Libya and Syria and have regime change in all of those countries as well. Is that President Bush's plan? Is that the American people are being asked to support?
WILSON: Well, there are certainly those who have written some of the philosophical underpinnings of this strategy who make those arguments. The seminal study was "A Clean Break" by Richard Perle in a study group, many of whom are occupying key positions in this administration. It's called "A Strategy for the Realm" or something like that. For the Israeli government, it was written for. And they make a lot of arguments about how to restructure the Middle East, including taking out Iraq and regime change in Iraq, applying pressure to Syria and to Iran.
BUCHANAN: Let me follow up on that.
"A Clean Break," you're right, "A Strategy for the Realm" was written, I believe, in 1996. It was written for Bibi Netanyahu, the incoming prime minister of Israel. And it talked about taking down Iraq first. We have seen Norman Patard's (ph) commentary list, about seven or eight countries, other scholars over at AEI and elsewhere.
And the argument is made that, by attacking the neocons and singling these people out, it is illegitimate to do so, because you are doing it because of their ethnicity. Did you see the piece by Lawrence Kaplan today?
WILSON: I saw the piece. I took some offense at it, because I think it is not the same to be for smart military action or not for military action and to be essentially being what they are claiming, anti-Semitic.
BUCHANAN: Is there not an overlap between what the neocons are arguing for and what Sharon wants as an American agenda for the Middle East?
WILSON: Very clearly. And it is actively debated in Israeli newspapers, including an article in October in "The Haaretz" which was entitled, "Perles of Wisdom for the Feithful," referring to Richard Perle and Doug Feith, who at the Pentagon.
Well. If we accept that Libby viewed some people as anti-Semitic for the nature of their attacks on the neo-cons, it is possible, based on these excerpts or others, that Joe Wilson was placed by Libby in that category.
And what does that suggest? Well, was anyone convinced by Libby's "I heard about Plame in June from Cheney, but forgot it completely until I heard it again from Russert in July" defense? I didn't think so.
But that already weak-defense becomes absurd if the prosecution can argue that Libby was motivated to "Get Joe" because he believed Wilson to be anti-Semitic.
On the other hand, Libby as a lone gunmen also becomes more plausible - maybe there was no conspiracy, and this Plame leak story is just Libby trying too hard to put Joe Wilson in his place.
Or... I scarcely dare suggest it, but if this was a conspiracy led by a fellow out to quash the anti-Semites, is there any particular ethnic characteristic we might look for in Libby's co-conspirators? Maybe David Wurmser is a more likely suspect than Karl Rove.
I doubt the prosecution would ever let it get that far - the last example particularly illustrates that Fitzgerald would be treading on very thin ice if he started suggesting that a Jewish cabal was out to get Wilson. Frankly, I think the whole topic is sufficiently radioactive that neither side will tackle it.
However, I am not prosecuting this; I am just trying to figure out what happened, and why.
Self Awareness Note: I do not have notebooks devoted to Joesph Wilson's every utterance, and my experience is that Wilson's defenders (the Few, the Proud) are much more inclined to be obsessed with him than I am. But thanks for wondering.
UPDATE: I don't know whether Wilson's EPIC speech of June 14, 2004 would have been available to Libby (or might he have gotten feedback some other way?), but here are some excerpts that might have struck a sensitive neo-con as being anti-Semitic (Remember, its not what you or I think, its what Libby might have thought that matters):
[Includes statements: 19:46: "The real agenda in all this, of course, was to redraw the political map of the Middle East. Now that is code, whether you like it or not, but it is code for putting into place the strategy memorandum which was done by Richard Perle and his study group in the mid-90s, which was called 'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm'. And what it is, cut to the quick, is if you take out some of these countries, or some of these governments, that are antagonistic to Israel, then you provide the Israeli government with greater wherewithal to impose its terms and conditions on the Palestinian people. . .But that is the real agenda. You can put weapons of mass destruction out there, you can put terrorism out there, you can put liberation out there. Weapons of mass destruction got hard-headed realists on board, through a bunch of lies. . ."
13:33: In response to the question about the geopolitical agenda behind the Iraq war, Wilson replies, "On the other ones, the geopolitical situation, I think there are a number of issues at play; there's a number of competing agendas. One is the remaking of the map of the Middle East for Israeli security, and my fear is that when it becomes increasingly apparent that this was all done to make Sharon's life easier and that American soldiers are dying in order to enable Sharon to impose his terms upon the Palestinians that people will wonder why it is American boys and girls are dying for Israel and that will undercut a strategic relationship and a moral obligation that we've had towards Israel for 55 years. I think it's a terribly flawed strategy."