Tim Russert's testimony, as elicited by the defense, painted a picture of a pundit with a puzzling problem. Arianna Huffington has a great collection of links and a quick summary of Russert's baffling testimony and Jane Hamsher offered some helpful hints as well [and let's include Swopa's liveblogging 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].
Let me point out a few dots that the defense has introduced and make some predictions about how they will attempt to connect them. In one sentence, the defense insinuation will be that Russert cooperated with the FBI investigation and committed a firing offense by keeping that from his NBC overlords; he also misled the FBI and the grand jury about his talk with Libby in order to minimize his own role in this case.
Please keep in mind - I am attempting to predict defense strategy, not ascertain "the truth".
Here we go:
1. Russert testified that he cooperated with the FBI investigation in November 2003.
2. Russert then testified that he couldn't remember whether he mentioned this cooperation to his boss and friend, Neal Shapiro of NBC News.
3. In 2004 NBC News filed a brief resisting Special Counsel Fitzgerald's attempt to subpoena Russert's testimony; Fitzgerald also submitted a filing, both of which are available here (and we thank Mss. Huffington and Hamsher). The NBC brief did not mention Russert's earlier cooperation, which seems to be a bit duplicitous; one might even use phrases like "false" and "misleading the court".
So where is the defense headed? Well, let's imagine that, despite Russert's non-memory, he did in fact tell Neal Shapiro that he had been approached by the FBI in the Plame investigation. Is Mr. Shapiro really going to take the stand and tell the court that yes, after learning that Tim "The Franchise" Russert, his Washington Bureau chief, was embroiled in the biggest political scandal of the year, he simply blinked and moved on the next topic? Is he going to say that he barely remembers it himself and is not surprised that Tim has forgotten?
Please. There were obvious First Amendment press freedom issues to be discussed, as well as the practical question of whether it would be appropriate for Tim to continue covering a story of which he was a part. So Mr. Shapiro will tell the court that, after Russert told him about the FBI investigation and EMT technicians had re-started his heart, he and Tim got into the issues. How could Tim forget this conversation? Hard to imagine.
Unless, of course, when Russert says he can't remember, he means that he did not tell Shapiro at all. Is it even remotely plausible that a reporter would cooperate with the Feds and not tell management?
Well, yes. Viveca Novak, former reporter for TIME, did exactly that on this very Plame case:
...the next week he told me Fitzgerald did indeed want to talk to me, but informally, not under oath. I hired a lawyer, Hank Schuelke, but I didn't tell anyone at TIME.
Did I mention that she is a "former" TIME reporter? She eventually told her bosses about Fitzgerald's interest, went on a leave, and never made it back.
So let's see - it's impossible to believe that Shapiro will testify that Russert told him but that the conversation was brief and forgettable. That makes it easier to believe that Russert pulled a Viveca and tried to keep his cooperation quiet. That means he also kept quiet when NBC filed the misleading affidavit opposing his subpoena.
Might those be firing offenses? Might that give him five million reasons a year to want to avoid any further trouble on this story? I bet the defense will raise that question.
And what about Special Counsel Fitzgerald? His role is a bit of a mystery here as well. Look through his 48 page argument explaining why Russert should be compelled to testify and riddle me this - why is there no mention anywhere of the fact that Russert has already cooperated with the FBI? As noted by Ms. Hamsher, Fitzgerald was delighted to point out that Russert had disclosed Richard Clarke as a source; surely the I. Lewis Libby example was even more on point.
Well, if the defense can raise questions, they can also insinuate answers - Fitzgerald was well aware of Russert's little problem and threw him a rope, at least in the public filing (there is also an Affidavit of Special Counsel which may cite the FBI cooperation.) So, Fitzgerald kept quiet about Russert's problem, and now Russert is delivering payback with his still-helpful testimony. True? Who knows? Reasonable doubt? Make the call!
Let's connect a few more dots. Let's imagine, HYPOTHETICALLY, that Russert did in fact mention Wilson's wife to Libby - why would he lie to the FBI about that?
Simple - his source was Andrea Mitchell; if Russert admitted he had a source, he would not be able to invoke reporter-source privilege (and lose that fight in court). Instead, he would have to give up Ms. Mitchell and let her fight to protect her source (a fight she would have lost, if Judy Miller and Matt Cooper are useful examples).
And the impact on Tim? Well, NBC reporters might be a bit less forthcoming with Tim if talking to Tim led to being subpoenaed. And it would be harder to be Washington Bureau Chief if the other reporters stop talking to you, yes? Maybe he could think of five million reasons a year to minimize his own involvement in the investigation - protect sources, protect Andrea, protect his paycheck.
And why would Tim worry that his little white lie would come back to bite him? It may never have occurred to him that Libby would be indicted, not for leaking, but for perjury. Russert may have figured, back in 2004, that since he he given info to Libby, Libby did not have a problem. Oops.
And a last thought - the initial, carefully worded NBC "denial" that Russert provided information about Ms. Plame to Libby was an attempt to keep Tim's options open - he had a good idea of "the truth", but was not clear just where he was going to jump when push came to shove. Just a guess. Now he has testified and has jumped in the direction of "I had a story and I'm sticking to it".
As to the "truth" of the above scenario, who can say? But I do predict that the defense will insinuate something like this as a motive for Russert to stick with his story.
PILING ON: NBC has been fighting like fury to quash subpoenas to other NBC reporters (have fun storming the castle, boys!); Fitzgerald wants to keep quiet his negotiations with Russert. No, I don't smell a rat... more like fish, actually. But whatever it is, the defense will feast.
PAGING CAPTAIN QUEEG: Russert's testimony about his chat with Libby is that he does not remember not discussing Wilson's wife, but since he had only learned about her later, it is impossible:
W: Do you have a present recollection of not discussing Wilson's wife, are you just reasoning backwards from the fact that you did not know about her until Novak's column.
T: I have no recollection, but it would have been impossible.
Well. Captain Queeg proved mathematically that there was a key to the refrigerator which had contained the strawberries, but his proof was undermined by false testimony.
If the defense can undermine the notion that it was "impossible" for Russert to have known, then his non-recollection becomes a real problem with his testimony. And Andrea Mitchell is up today.
WHERE ARE THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES? From Russert, via a liveblog:
W: But Fitz agreed to limit questioning.
(Tim begs to differ. He pours some water as Wells puts a letter on the screen.)
W: (quotes the letter in which Fitz promises to limit questioning) He was limiting the questioning, right?
T: I was not familiar with exact letter, but as I read it now, I understand it.
This could become a journalistic snuff film.
ERRATA: I know Mickey Kaus discussed Russert's conflict of interest challenge (reporting on a story in which he was involved) way back when. What I don't know is how to breeze through the Slate archives, but let me give credit where due.
And here is an example, anyway:
It's not that NBC's "reporters" aren't telling the whole story [that Libby called to complain about coverage of the Niger story rather than, for example, coverage of Cheney's energy task force]. They aren't even telling the minimal, basic gist of the story that others are telling. It's getting cult-like and creepy!**
Why would NBC keep its viewers in the dark--letting them think that maybe Libby was calling to complain about a report on global warming? Possible answers: a) They're worried they might encourage early challenges to Russert's credibility; b) They're hiding something; Or c) If press accounts make Russert seem even more embroiled in the Wilson/Libby case than he is now, he will inevitably have to give up his perch as "neutral" moderator of Meet the Press, at least temporarily? ( I don't think he should have to give it up--it makes for better TV if he's a player! But there would be pressure for him to do so.) ... kf thinks: (b)!
Can he still keep his seat? I bet yes - the media clamp-down on this story has been nearly total.
JUST TO HELP: At the end of Swopa 3:
W: Right after Libby was indicted, do you remember having a roundtable discussion on TV?
W: Do you remember roundtable disussion on Libby indictment?
T: Probably two of those — on MTP, and on CNBC
W: And on CNBC, roundtable was you, Gregory, Mitchell, and Pete Williams. Correct?
A redacted transcript is available at this old post.
And Andrea is on the way - lots of her material here.