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Context of 'May 13-20, 2004: Russert Refuses to Testify before Grand Jury; Fitzgerald Issues Subpoena'

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Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and NBC News reporter and anchor Tim Russert speak on the telephone. Libby wants to complain to Russert about an MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, and Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq-Niger controversy (see July 10, 2003). Libby will later claim that, during the conversation, Russert informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of war critic Joseph Wilson, is a CIA officer. “All the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer, Libby will testify that Russert says. Russert will testify that he and Libby never discuss Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), and at the time he has no knowledge of her CIA status. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/10/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] It is unclear whether Libby speaks to Russert before or after his conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who tells him that he has “outed” Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak (see July 10 or 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Chris Matthews, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

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

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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