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Context of 'Late February or Early March, 2004: Libby, Russert Discuss Leak Investigation'

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Tim Russert, NBC’s bureau chief and host of Meet the Press, is interviewed by FBI agent John Eckenrode as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. One of the targets of the investigation, White House official Lewis Libby, has indicated that he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to the report later compiled by Eckenrode, Russert recalls “one, and possibly two telephone conversations” between himself and Libby between July 6 and July 12, 2003. Eckenrode will write: “Russert does not recall stating to Libby, in this conversation, anything about the wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson. Although he could not completely rule out the possibility that he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it, and moreover, he believes that this would be the type of conversation that he would or should remember. Russert acknowledged that he speaks to many people on a daily basis and it is difficult to reconstruct some specific conversations, particularly one which occurred several months ago.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Eckenrode, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House chief of staff Lewis Libby speaks with NBC bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Russert has willingly testified to the FBI concerning his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see November 24, 2003), but will resist testifying to the grand jury investigating the leak (see May 13-20, 2004 and June 2004). According to his own subsequent testimony before the grand jury (see March 24, 2004), Libby asks if Russert is willing to discuss the matter with his lawyer, but he will testify that he does not discuss anything else of substance with Russert. It is unclear whether their conversation has anything to do with Russert’s unwillingness to testify before the grand jury. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

March 24, 2004: Libby Lies to Grand Jury Again

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies under oath a second time (see March 5, 2004) before the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see December 30, 2003 and January 2004). According to his later indictment (see October 28, 2005), Libby commits perjury during his testimony. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] There is a certain amount of overlap in the subjects discussed in the two interviews.
Claims to Have Learned Identity from Reporter - Libby tells the jury that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to prosecutors’ later filings, Libby says: “Russert asked Libby if Libby was aware that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. Libby responded to Russert that he did not know that, and Russert replied that all the reporters knew it.” Russert will deny that he ever said anything of the kind to Libby (see February 7-8, 2007). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Libby testifies about a conversation he had with Cheney in the fall of 2003, when he complained that the White House was not making public statements exonerating him of responsibility for the leak (see Late September or Early October, 2003). Asked by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald if he had told Cheney about speaking to reporters regarding Plame Wilson, Libby responds: “I think I did. Let me bring you back to that period. I think I did in that there was a conversation I had with the vice president when all this started coming out and it was this issue as to, you now, who spoke to [columnist Robert] Novak (see July 14, 2003). I told the vice—you know, there was—the president said anybody who knows anything should come forward or something like that.… I went to the vice president and said, you know, ‘I was not the person who talked to Novak.’ And he [said] something like, ‘I know that.’ And I said, you know, ‘I learned this from Tim Russert.’ And he sort of tilted his head to the side a little bit and then I may have in that conversation said, ‘I talked to other—I talked to people about it on the weekend.’” Libby is most likely referring to his conversations with reporters Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) and Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003 and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald asks of the conversation with Cheney, “What did you understand from his gesture or reaction in tilting his head?” Libby replies: “That the Tim Russert part caught his attention. You know, that he—he reacted as if he didn’t know about the Tim Russert thing or he was rehearing it, or reconsidering it, or something like that.… New, new sort of information. Not something he had been thinking about.” Fitzgerald asks: “And did he at any time tell you, ‘Well, you didn’t learn it from Tim Russert, you learned it from me? Back in June you and I talked about the wife working at the CIA?’” Libby responds, “No.” Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby in June 2003 (see (June 12, 2003)). Fitzgerald asks, “Did he indicate any concern that you had done anything wrong by telling reporters what you had learned?” and Libby again responds, “No.” Libby tells Fitzgerald that he isn’t sure if he mentioned the Cooper and Miller leaks to Cheney. “I did tell him, of course, that we had spoken to the people who he had told us to speak to on the weekend. I think at some point I told him that.” [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 2/19/2007]
Fails to Disclose Leak to Reporter - In neither appearance before the grand jury does Libby disclose that he discussed Plame Wilson’s identity with New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Instead, he testifies that he told Miller that he knew Plame Wilson had had some involvement in sending her husband to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), but did not reveal her as a CIA agent because he was not aware of her CIA status. Libby is lying (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and August 6, 2005). Libby also failed to disclose the conversations he had with Miller when he was twice interviewed by FBI agents working on the leak, in October and November 2003. Fitzgerald will not learn of Libby’s failure to disclose the conversations until late 2005, after Miller’s testimony before the court (see October 7, 2005). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 10/11/2005; National Journal, 10/18/2005]
Libby 'Authorized' to Disclose Classified Information by Bush, Cheney - Libby also tells the grand jury that he had been “authorized” by President Bush, Cheney, and other White House “superiors” in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq. According to Libby’s testimony, Cheney authorized him to release classified information, including details of the October 2, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002), to defend the administration’s use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war; Libby tells the jury that he had received “approval from the president through the vice president” to divulge material from the NIE. He testifies that one portion of the NIE he was authorized to divulge concerned Iraq’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Libby says that authorization from the president and vice president was “unique in his recollection.” According to court papers filed in regards to his indictment, Libby tells the jury “that he was specifically authorized in advance… to disclose the key judgments of the classified NIE to Miller” because Cheney believed it to be “very important” to do so. Libby adds “that he at first advised the vice president that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE.” It was then, he says, that Cheney advised him that Bush authorized the disclosure. Cheney told Libby that he, and not Cheney’s press spokeswoman Cathie Martin, should leak the classified information to the press. At the time of the disclosure, Libby says, he knew that only himself, Bush, and Cheney knew that portions of the NIE had been declassified; other senior Cabinet-level officials were not informed of the decision. Libby adds that an administration lawyer, David Addington, told him that Bush, by authorizing the disclosure of classified information, had in effect declassified that information. Many legal experts will disagree with that assessment. Libby considers Addington an expert on national security law. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 2/6/2006; National Journal, 4/6/2006]
Libby's Testimony Met with Disbelief - The prosecutors interrogating Libby are incredulous and disbelieving of many of Libby’s claims. They do not believe his contention that he and Cheney never discussed Plame Wilson between July 6 and July 14—the dates of Wilson’s op-ed (see July 6, 2003) and Novak’s outing of Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), respectively. (Libby did indeed discuss Plame Wilson with Cheney and other White House officials during that time period—see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). They do not believe Libby’s claim that he had “forgotten” about knowing Plame Wilson was a CIA official as early as June 2003 (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and (June 12, 2003)). And they do not believe Libby’s claim that he had merely passed to Cheney a rumor he had heard from reporter Tim Russert about Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see July 10 or 11, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Drastic Change in Behavior - Steven Aftergood, a senior analyst with the Federation of American Scientists and an expert on government secrecy and classification issues, says that in disclosing the classified information, Libby “presents himself in this instance and others as being very scrupulous in adhering to the rules. He is not someone carried on by the rush of events. If you take his account before the grand jury on face value, he is cautious and deliberative in his behavior. That is almost the exact opposite as to how he behaves when it comes to disclosing Plame [Wilson]‘s identity. All of a sudden he doesn’t play within the rules. He doesn’t seek authorization. If you believe his account, he almost acts capriciously. You have to ask yourself why his behavior changes so dramatically, if he is telling the truth that this was not authorized and that he did not talk to higher-ups.” [National Journal, 6/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Steven Aftergood, Matthew Cooper, Tim Russert, Judith Miller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald negotiates with NBC bureau chief Tim Russert about his conversations with White House official Lewis Libby (see July 10 or 11, 2003), particularly, according to documents later filed with the court in the Libby perjury trial, regarding “one or more conversations between [Russert] and [Libby] on or about July 10, 2003 (and any follow-up conversations) which involved Libby complaining to [Russert] in his capacity as NBC bureau chief about the on-the-air comments of another NBC correspondent.” Russert, through his lawyers, declines to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, though he does “agree to preserve any relevant notes, tapes, or other documents” (see June 2004). As a result, Fitzgerald will issue a subpoena (see May 21, 2004). Russert has cooperated with the FBI in the investigation (see November 24, 2003), and recently spoke to Libby about the investigation (see Late February or Early March, 2004). [US Department of Justice, 2/23/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers for NBC News reporter and Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert argue that Russert should not have to testify before the Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). Since the spring of 2004, his lawyers have realized that Russert’s testimony could be used to indict White House official Lewis Libby for perjury, as Libby has apparently lied about a conversation he and Russert had in the summer of 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Russert knows that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald already knows of the Russert/Libby conversation (see November 24, 2003), and Libby has already signed a waiver permitting Russert to name him in testimony (see January 2-5, 2004). But Russert and his lawyers argue that he should not have to testify because it might harm his relationship with other sources. According to court papers released in 2006, 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.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2006] On July 21, 2004, the court will deny Russert’s motion. [MSNBC, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: NBC News, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Artist’s sketch of Tim Russert testifying in the Libby trial.Artist’s sketch of Tim Russert testifying in the Libby trial. [Source: Art Lien / CourtArtist (.com)]NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), following almost three days of videotaped testimony from Libby (see February 7, 2007). Russert’s testimony is virtually identical to statements he previously made to an FBI investigator (see November 24, 2003) and to the Plame Wilson grand jury (see August 7, 2004).
Never Discussed Plame Wilson with Libby - Questioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Russert contradicts Libby’s 2004 testimony, where Libby said he learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert in July 2003 (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Russert says that in July 2003 he spoke with Libby, who complained about MSNBC news anchor Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq war (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby testified that at the end of that phone call, Russert broached the subject of war critic Joseph Wilson and told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, saying, “[A]ll the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Russert tells the jury: “That would be impossible. I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.” He adds: “If he had told me [Plame Wilson’s identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it.”
Cross-Examination Focuses on Faulty Recollections - Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, is skeptical of Russert’s denial. “You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don’t ask him one question about it?” he asks. “As a newsperson who’s known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn’t have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?” Russert replies, “What happened is exactly what I told you.” Wells cites a transcript of Russert’s initial testimony before the FBI, in which he said he could not rule out discussing Plame Wilson with Libby. Russert says he doesn’t believe that is what he told the FBI. Wells asks, “Did you disclose in the affidavit to the court that you had already disclosed the contents of your conversation with Mr. Libby?” Russert attempts to answer, saying, “As I’ve said, sir…” but Wells cuts him off, saying, “It’s a yes or no question.” Russert responds, “I’d like to answer it to the best of my ability.” Wells says: “This is a very simple question. Either it’s in the affidavit or it’s not. Did you disclose to the court that you had already communicated to the FBI the fact that you had communicated with Mr. Libby?” Russert answers, “No” (see Late February or Early March, 2004). Wells attempts to raise questions about Russert’s ethics and credibility, and implies that Russert wanted to see Libby face charges. In follow-up questioning, Fitzgerald asks Russert, “Did you take joy in Mr. Libby’s indictment?” Russert replies: “No, not at all. And I don’t take joy in being here” in the courtroom as a witness. During the second day of Russert’s testimony, defense lawyers ask why Russert told the FBI about his conversation with Libby, but said he would not testify if subpoenaed; Russert says he viewed the FBI conversation and the subpoena differently. During redirect, Fitzgerald notes that during Libby’s grand jury testimony, Libby claimed that he had indeed learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, but had forgotten about it, and when Russert told him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, it was as if it were new information to him (see February 6, 2007). [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; CNN, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/9/2007; Associated Press, 2/9/2007; MSNBC, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The Associated Press writes: “Wells wants to cast Russert as someone who cannot be believed, who publicly championed the sanctity of off-the-record conversations but privately revealed that information to investigators. Russert said he viewed the FBI conversation and testimony to prosecutors differently.” [Associated Press, 2/9/2007]
Potential Mistrial Averted - The jurors are not supposed to read about the trial in the press or watch television coverage of it; resultingly, they are provided newspapers with the pertinent information scissored out. As the jurors enter the courtroom for Russert’s second day of testimony, Judge Reggie Walton notes that they were given newspapers with a Washington Post article, headlined “Tim Russert on the Uncomfortable Side of a Question,” unredacted. A juror brought the newspaper to the attention of the marshals immediately upon receipt of it, and no juror admits to having read it. Walton rules that no harm has been done, and a potential mistrial is averted. [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, NBC News, Reggie B. Walton, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Chris Matthews, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing


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