The WaPo teases us with a near non-story on Tim Russert's legal maneuverings in the Plame case:
Russert Resisted Testifying on Leak
Lawyers for NBC News reporter Tim Russert suspected in the spring of 2004 that his testimony could snare Vice President Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in a lie and Russert resisted testifying at the time about private conversations with Libby, according to court papers released yesterday.
Russert was aware that a special prosecutor probing the leak of a CIA operative's name knew of his summer 2003 telephone conversation with Libby, and that Libby had released him from any promise of confidentiality. But Russert, the Washington bureau chief for NBC News and host of "Meet the Press," and his attorneys argued in previously sealed court filings in June 2004 that he should not have to tell a grand jury about that conversation, because it would harm Russert's relationship with other sources.
No kidding. Now, one might wonder, why did Russert suspect that his testimony might "snare" Libby in a lie? Did Russert have a sneak preview of the Libby story? As best I can tell, that is answered in the last paragraph:
It "appears that Mr. Russert's testimony is sought solely because the Special Prosecutor believes that his recollection of a telephone conversation with an Executive Branch official is inconsistent with that official's statements," they wrote.
Well, let's resist the temptation to say "Duh". Look, either Russert's testimony was going to jibe with Libby's, or it wasn't. It was not much of a guess for Russert's lawyers to imagine that their client might end up as a star witness in a perjury trial.
[UPDATE: Per the actual court filings, that is essentially what was going on; Russert's team argued that, since Russert had provided a deposition denying that he had *received* a Plame leak, he could not provide evidence of a crime; Fitzgerald said, in effect, I bet you can, Big Fella; and Russert's lawyers concluded that the only crime on offer was perjury. Good guess.]
On the other hand, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of the WaPo managed to testify and confirm Libby's story. So did Matt Cooper of TIME, more or less - Libby and Cooper are in agreement that Cooper raised the subject of Plame and told Libby about her CIA connection; views differ on whether Libby replied to the effect of "Yeah, I've heard that, too", or "Yeah, I've heard that from other reporters, too".
Ms. Leonnig of the WaPo is cute with this:
Fitzgerald accused Libby of lying to investigators when he said he believed he heard about Valerie Plame's CIA role from Russert in their July 2003 telephone conversation. Russert testified that they never discussed Plame.
So he says. However, did Russert say anything about "Wilson's wife" being at the CIA? His very specific denial danced around that obvious question, which remains unanswered, and, in Ms. Leonnig's tender hands, unexplored. [That said, as we have noted previously the indictment certainly suggests that Fitzgerald believes Russert and Libby did not discuss Wilson's wife - see UPDATE].
Well, Adam Liptak of the Times actually kicked the tires of this Russert puzzle back in July; since the Times has this court document as well, perhaps he will try again (Right, during the week Alito has his hearing?)
Bah. Where can I get that court document? Help me, please!
UPDATE: Oh, you mean the docs are at the Court's website? Not when I looked there!
And there is some cool stuff here; already my blood pressure is rising.
Here we go:
Here we stay - the Text Copy seems to be turned off. Well, then - per page 5 of the .pdf file, it seems clear that Libby had testified that he called to complain to Russert in his capacity as NBC Bureau Chief; that jibes nicely with Russert's story. Fitzgerald then adds that he wants to ask whether "Mr. Russert imparted information concerning the employment of Ambassador Wilson's wife to Mr. Libby or whether the employment of Wilson's wife was otherwise duscussed in that conversation".
Well, well. Fitzgerald (and presumably, Libby) were quite clear that the topic was "Wilson's wife", not "Valerie Plame". Mr. Russert's very specific denial looks even more puzzling.
All that said, Fitzgerald did deliver an indictment essentially on the strength of Russert's testimony. Point 20 of the factual recitation is this:
20. On or about July 10, 2003, LIBBY spoke to NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert to complain about press coverage of LIBBY by an MSNBC reporter. LIBBY did not discuss Wilson's wife with Russert.
32. It was part of the corrupt endeavor that during his grand jury testimony, defendant LIBBY made the following materially false and intentionally misleading statements and representations, in substance, under oath:
a. When LIBBY spoke with Tim Russert of NBC News, on or about July 10, 2003:
i. Russert asked LIBBY if LIBBY knew that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and told LIBBY that all the reporters knew it; and
ii. At the time of this conversation, LIBBY was surprised to hear that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA;
33. It was further part of the corrupt endeavor that at the time defendant LIBBY made each of the above-described materially false and intentionally misleading statements and representations to the grand jury, LIBBY was aware that they were false, in that:
a. When LIBBY spoke with Tim Russert of NBC News on or about July 10, 2003:
i. Russert did not ask LIBBY if LIBBY knew that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, nor did he tell LIBBY that all the reporters knew it; and
ii. At the time of this conversation, LIBBY was well aware that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA; in fact, LIBBY had participated in multiple prior conversations concerning this topic, including on the following occasions:
OK - even though Russert has never denied it publicly, he must have convinced Fitzgerald.
However, a little question and a big question remain:
(Little) Why won't Russert just issue a less carefully phrased, more comprehensive explanation?
(Big) Regardless of what he said to Libby, did Russert in fact know, or had he heard suggestions, that Joe Wilson's wife was at the CIA? This chat with Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell from Oct 2005 reads like the newsroom equivalent of "Waiting for Fitzgerald" as they dance around that topic.
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE: Jeralynn Merritt sneaks Jeff Toobin's New Yorker piece about the Libby defense strategy: "By the time this trial is over, the press is going to regret that this case was ever brought.”
No kidding. The Russert testimony looks like "he said/he said", with a twist - if Andrea Mitchell, Russert's underling, takes the stand and admits that, as she said in Oct 2003, she did know about Wilson and Wife, then Russert's credibility may not be enough to send a man to jail.