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Context of 'February 7-8, 2007: NBC’s Russert: Libby Never Told Me about Plame Wilson'

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NBC reporter Tim Russert, host of its flagship Sunday morning political talk show Meet the Press, testifies to FBI investigators probing the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). He is deposed under oath and is audiotaped, but is not compelled to testify directly to the grand jury investigating the leak. According to an NBC statement, Russert is interviewed under oath, and testifies that he was the recipient of a leak; NBC will later claim that the interview was allowed as part of an agreement to avoid a protracted court fight. Russert is not asked to disclose a confidential source. “The questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, phoned him last summer” (see July 10 or 11, 2003), the statement reads. “Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of the conversation he didn’t know Plame’s name or that she was a CIA operative and did not provide that information to Libby.” [Office of Special Counsel, 7/27/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 8/10/2004; Associated Press, 8/11/2004] Neither did Libby disclose Plame Wilson’s identity to him, Russert testifies. Russert and NBC News initially resisted the subpoena on First Amendment grounds, but relented after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald agreed not to compel Russert to appear before the grand jury, or to disclose confidential sources or information. [Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Russert has already talked informally with John Eckenrode, the FBI investigator overseeing the day-to-day investigation duties (see November 24, 2003). He told Eckenrode that Libby’s claim of learning Plame Wilson’s identity from him was false, and that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson at all. [National Journal, 2/15/2007] Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert will lead to perjury charges (see October 28, 2005).

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Cathie Martin entering the courthouse.Cathie Martin entering the courthouse. [Source: New York Times]Cathie Martin, the former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies that she told Cheney and his former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status weeks before Libby claims to have learned that information from reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] At the time in question, Martin was Cheney’s assistant for public affairs. She now works at the White House as the deputy director of communications for policy and planning. As Cheney’s assistant, she worked closely with Libby and handled most press inquiries for Cheney and Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Passed along Information about Plame Wilson to Libby, Cheney - Martin testifies that in her presence Libby spoke with a senior CIA official on the telephone, and asked about the Joseph Wilson trip to Niger. She says she then spoke with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who told her that Wilson went to Niger on behalf of the agency, and that Wilson’s wife worked at the agency (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003). Martin then says that she subsequently told both Libby and Cheney that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). The International Herald Tribune notes: “The perspective she laid out under questioning from a federal prosecutor was damaging to Libby.… She bolstered the prosecution’s assertion that Libby was fully aware of [Plame] Wilson’s identity from a number of administration officials, and did not first learn about her from reporters, as he has claimed. Perhaps more important[ly], she testified as a former close colleague of Libby’s and demonstrated her familiarity with him by repeatedly referring to him by his nickname, Scooter.” [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007] Of Plame Wilson’s outing by Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), she testifies, “I knew it was a big deal that he had disclosed it.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Testifies that Cheney Coordinated Attack on Wilson - Martin also gives detailed evidence that it was Cheney who coordinated the White House counterattack against Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, in retaliation for his op-ed debunking administration claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). She testifies that during the first week of July 2003, she and her staff were told to increase their monitoring of the media, including television news (which until that point had not been monitored closely), and to make transcripts of everything that was said pertaining to administration policies and issues. She testifies that Cheney and Libby were both very interested in what the media was reporting about Iraqi WMDs, and whether Cheney’s office had ordered Joseph Wilson to go to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). She discusses the talking points she disseminated to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer regarding Cheney’s lack of involvement in sending Wilson to Niger (see 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003). Martin testifies that she had already been using those talking points, based on conversations she had had with Libby, but sent the memo to Fleischer because of Wilson’s appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows (see July 6, 2003). According to Martin, Cheney “dictated” the talking points for Fleischer, and included direct quotes from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), which had been partially declassified without her knowledge (see July 12, 2003)—she says she urged Cheney and Libby to declassify the NIE before leaking information from it to reporters. (Judge Reggie Walton tells the jury, “You are instructed that there is no dispute between the parties that on July 8 certain portions of the NIE had been declassified, although Ms. Martin had not been made aware of the declassification.”) Martin testifies that Cheney told Libby to speak directly to reporters about Wilson, effectively bypassing her and other communications staffers in his office. Martin also says she told Cheney and Libby that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA days before Libby claims he “first” learned it from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Martin refuses to confirm that either Cheney or Libby suggested leaking Plame Wilson’s identity as part of a strategy to discredit her husband. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Falsely Accused of Leaking Information to NBC Reporter - Martin goes on to describe a senior staff meeting at the White House, where she was implictly accused of leaking information to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell (see July 9, 2003). She denies leaking the information to Mitchell, and testifies that Libby spoke with Mitchell about such subjects. [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Defense Notes Change in Martin's Testimony - The defense notes that Martin has changed the dates of some of her recollections from her previous statements to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators. [International Herald Tribune, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007] The defense’s cross-examination of Martin extends into Monday, January 29; Fitzgerald briefly redirects her testimony. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Attempt to Slow Trial Fails - A January 25 attempt by defense attorney Theodore Wells to slow the pace of the trial fails. Wells attempts to delay Martin’s testimony by complaining that he has not had an opportunity to review what he calls a “whole box” of the original copies of Martin’s notes. It would, Wells says, take hours for the defense team to read and review the notes. Fitzgerald reminds the court that the defense has had the notes for a year. Wells then complains that some of the notes are illegible. “I think that’s a bit of a spin,” Fitzgerald retorts, noting that he is only using about four pages of notes as evidence. “These copies were legible. Show me the pages that weren’t legible.” Judge Reggie Walton says that since it would be unethical for Wells to misrepresent his inability to read the documents, he has to accept Wells’s assertion. Fitzgerald then produces the notes, a small stack of documents that do not comprise a “whole box.” Walton, apparently exasperated, tells Wells he can review the notes during his lunch hour, and refuses to delay the trial. [New York Times, 2/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Andrea Mitchell, Bill Harlow, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Reggie B. Walton, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak

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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