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Context of 'May 21, 2004: Plame Wilson Jury Subpoenas Time, NBC Reporters'

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Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

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

The grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas Time reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC’s Tim Russert, host of “Meet the Press.” Time and NBC both say they will fight the subpoenas (see May 13-20, 2004, June 2004 and August 9, 2004). NBC says the subpoenas could have a “chilling effect” on its ability to report the news. NBC president Neal Shapiro says, “Sources will simply stop speaking with the press if they fear those conversations will become public.” Cooper’s lawyer, Floyd Abrams, says, “Rounding up the Washington press corps doesn’t seem the most likely way to find out about sources.” Time vice president Robin Bierstedt says that the magazine has a strict policy of protecting “its confidential sources.” First Amendment lawyer Devereux Chatillon comments, “Subpoenas to the press at all, much less for confidential sources, are extremely unusual, certainly from the federal government. Without protection for confidential sources, the press cannot report effectively on things like the Abu Ghraib scandal.” [New York Times, 5/23/2003; Washington Post, 5/22/2004; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 pdf file; Supreme Court of the United States, 5/2005; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Time magazine, Robin Bierstedt, Devereux Chatillon, Tim Russert, Floyd Abrams, NBC News, Matthew Cooper, Neal Shapiro

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

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs Lee Levine, the lawyer for NBC bureau chief Tim Russert, of what he intends to ask Russert in front of the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004). Fitzgerald notes that he has promised Russert’s testimony would be kept secret. He writes: “Special counsel intends to ask your client about the following subject matter in the grand jury: telephone conversation(s) between I. Lewis Libby and your client, Tim Russert, on or about July 10, 2003 (and any follow up conversations) which involved Mr. Libby complaining to Mr. Russert in his capacity as NBC bureau chief about the on-air comments of another NBC correspondent (see July 10 or 11, 2003). To be clear, we will also ask whether during that conversation Mr. Russert imparted information concerning the employment of Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson’s wife [Valerie Plame Wilson, a clandestine CIA official] to Mr. Libby or whether the employment of Wilson’s wife was otherwise discussed in the conversation.” [Office of the Special Counsel, 6/2/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lee Levine, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers for Time reporter Matthew Cooper move to quash the subpoena issued against Cooper by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 21, 2004). Cooper’s lawyers argue that the subpoena violates Cooper’s First Amendment rights to protect his journalistic sources, and his “reporter’s privilege” under the Supreme Court ruling Branzburg v. Hayes. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/20/2004 pdf file] Judge Thomas Hogan will refuse to quash the subpoena (see August 9, 2004).

Entity Tags: Thomas Hogan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers for NBC move to quash the subpoena issued against NBC bureau chief Tim Russert by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 21, 2004). NBC’s lawyers argue that the subpoena violates Russert’s First Amendment rights to protect his journalistic sources, and his “reporter’s privilege” under the Supreme Court ruling Branzburg v. Hayes. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 6/4/2004 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/20/2004 pdf file] Judge Thomas Hogan will refuse to quash the subpoena (see August 9, 2004).

Entity Tags: Tim Russert, NBC News, Thomas Hogan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, facing a subpoena to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004), discusses the matter with White House official Lewis Libby. According to an affidavit later filed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Cooper tells Libby that his “recollection of events [referring to their conversation in which Libby outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official—see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) is basically exculpatory, and asked Libby if Libby objected to Cooper testifying.” Libby indicates he has no objections, and suggests their attorneys should discuss the issue. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 6/29/2007 pdf file] Presumably, this is to determine whether Libby will agree to grant Cooper a waiver of confidentiality that would allow him to testify about their conversation.

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Neal Shapiro, Joseph C. Wilson, Floyd Abrams, Bush administration (43), Lucy Dalglish, NBC News, Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Thomas Hogan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Nelson, Bob Woodward, Allan Wolper, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Walter Pincus, Robert Steele, Jeff Greenfield, Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, CNN, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is narrowing his focus on the potential criminal actions of White House political strategist Karl Rove. According to lawyers involved in the Lewis Libby perjury investigation, Fitzgerald is abandoning inquiries into whether Rove lied to a grand jury about his role in the Plame Wilson identity leak, and his characterization of the involvement of President Bush in the leak. Now Fitzgerald is focusing on whether Rove tried to conceal from the grand jury a conversation he had with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in the week before Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was revealed (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and October 15, 2004). Fitzgerald is not sure Rove was fully forthcoming about the belated discovery of an internal e-mail in which he described the conversation with Cooper (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003 and March 1, 2004), and some within the investigation speculate that Rove may have perjured himself. White House officials have said that Rove will not be asked to leave the administration if he is not indicted. Democratic leaders in Congress have renewed their call for him to resign, reminding Bush of his pledge to demand the “highest ethical standards” from the members of his administration. [New York Times, 11/4/2005] Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, will point to a casual conversation between himself and journalist Viveca Novak as proof that Rove did not deliberately lie about the conversation with Cooper (see March 1, 2004). However, a source familiar with the case tells reporters that Rove had informed Luskin about the Cooper conversation even before his first testimony to the grand jury in February 2004 (see February 2004). Rove then told the jury that he did not remember speaking with Cooper about Plame Wilson. According to the source, Fitzgerald finds it suspicious that Rove did not find the e-mail until after he had subpoenaed Cooper to testify before his grand jury (see May 21, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/3/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Viveca Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post’s editorial page, provides much of the information the defense had attempted unsuccessfully to raise during the Libby perjury trial about NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 14, 2007). Podhoretz is referring to a stipulation the jury heard in final testimony, written by former FBI agent John Eckenrode, who interviewed Russert about his knowledge and potential involvement in the press exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003). In the interview, Russert said he did not speak to then-White House official Lewis Libby about Plame Wilson, and did not inform him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, though he could not rule it out completely. Libby has told both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Russert gave a deposition for that same grand jury (see August 7, 2004) and testified in Libby’s trial (see February 7-8, 2007) that he was sure he never spoke to Libby about Plame Wilson. Podhoretz writes: “The question is: How could Russert’s memory of his July 2003 conversation with Libby improve over time? If he wasn’t sure about the details in November 2003, how could he be so certain about them when testifying before a grand jury in 2005? And be even more certain testifying in court in 2007? Should the jury believe Russert’s words now—or take more account of his words in November 2003?” (Podhoretz errs in stating Russert gave the deposition in 2005; he gave that deposition in August 2004.) Podhoretz then advises the Libby defense lawyers to use the apparent contradiction in their closing arguments, which are coming up in a matter of days: “The stipulation will allow the defense to make a strong case in closing arguments next week that Russert’s initial description of the phone call needs to be taken very seriously. The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The stipulation casts doubt on Russert’s firm testimony.” Podhoretz believes that the issue can likely lead the jury to find that it cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby perjured himself. Podhoretz concludes by misrepresenting Russert’s statement to Eckenrode: according to Podhoretz, all it took was a single phone call from the FBI for Russert to breach his professional ethics by revealing information about sources to Eckenrode, when in reality Russert told Eckenrode he did not learn of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby, and battled the subpoena that compelled his testimony for the grand jury (see May 13-20, 2004, May 21, 2004, May 21, 2004, June 2004, June 2, 2004, and June 4, 2004). Podhoretz concludes, “[M]aybe, just maybe, Russert’s original words from November 2003—words he should never have spoken in the first place—will help get my friend Scooter out of his disgraceful mess.” [New York Post, 2/16/2007]

Entity Tags: John Podhoretz, John Eckenrode, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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