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Profile: John Eckenrode
John Eckenrode was a participant or observer in the following events:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan is interviewed by several FBI agents as part of the FBI’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. The FBI team is led by John Eckenrode, the senior agent who has spearheaded the bureau’s investigation. McClellan is accompanied by a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). He has already turned over a sheaf of documents from his work files, including an e-mail from a friend of his personal assistant, Carmen Ingwell. The friend claimed that she had attended a class or lecture at a California university several years before, at which, she said, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, told his listeners that his wife was a CIA agent. McClellan will write, “I had no idea whether the story was true or not.” The FBI questions revolve mostly around “how the White House, including the White House’s communication team, operated and interacted with the media.” After the interview, McClellan remarks to the White House lawyer, Ted Ullyot, “I was surprised they didn’t ask any substantive questions about what I might know, such as my conversations with [Karl] Rove and [Lewis] Libby.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 222] McClellan will subsequently be interviewed a second time by the FBI (see Late October or Early November, 2003).
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 ]
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 ; 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).
FBI agent Deborah Bond testifies for the prosecution in the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Bond took over the Libby investigation when the previous head, John Eckenrode (see November 24, 2003), retired. She discusses two interviews she held with Libby, in October and November 2003 respectively (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). She says that in one interview Libby acknowledged that his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, “may have talked” on July 12, 2003, about telling the press that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, worked at the CIA, though Libby told her that he was “not sure” the conversation actually took place. According to Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney “may have” discussed the Plame Wilson matter the same day, while the two flew back to Washington from Norfolk aboard Air Force Two (see July 12, 2003); Libby said that Cheney might have learned about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA Director George Tenet or another CIA official, though he was not sure. Cheney was wondering how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. Days before, Cheney had written in the margin of an op-ed by Wilson a question about the possibility of Plame Wilson sending her husband on a fact-finding “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). Libby told the FBI during a November 2003 interview that, in the agent’s words, “there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA” during that July 12 flight. “Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn’t sure.” In the hours after the discussion, Libby called reporter Judith Miller; in their conversation, he outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official and accused her of sending her husband to Niger (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), though Bond testifies that Libby denied ever mentioning Plame Wilson to Miller. Libby also called Time reporter Matthew Cooper and confirmed that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, and had been involved in her husband’s trip (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says of Bond’s testimony, “This is significant, because it bring [sic] Cheney himself far more directly into the case, and for the first time suggests that it was the vice president who wanted the news about Wilson’s wife to be circulated to the news media.” Bond’s testimony also establishes the first time Libby claimed he “forgot” about learning Plame Wilson’s CIA status until “remembering” in October 2003. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Washington Post, 2/2/2007; Associated Press, 2/2/2007; National Journal, 2/15/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The defense presses Bond to acknowledge that Libby told her he was unsure of his memory and needed to consult his notes to be sure of his facts. Defense lawyer Theodore Wells also notes that Bond’s notes from the Libby interview are incomplete, and fail to mention Libby’s denials of disclosing Plame Wilson’s identity to Miller. Bond says that while she is sure Libby denied discussing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity with then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), FBI notes of Libby’s testimony contain no record of such a denial. The notes say that he may have discussed it, but he couldn’t recall. “Adamantly might not be the perfect word,” Bond testifies. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Associated Press, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, George J. Tenet, Judith Miller, John Eckenrode, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Michael Isikoff, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Theodore Wells
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
With one exception, the jury comes to the courtroom wearing red Valentine’s Day T-shirts. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]The defense in the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007) rests after a speech by defense attorney John Cline, who tells jurors about Libby’s briefings on terrorist threats, bomb scares, insurgent attacks, and other issues. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Jury Intends to 'Act Independently' - In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the jurors all enter the courtroom wearing identical red shirts with white hearts on the chests (one juror, an art historian and former museum curator, is not so attired). Juror 1432, whose name is not available to the press, stands up and says to Judge Reggie Walson, “We wanted to express our appreciation to you for our comfort and our safety thanks to the marshals.” The juror then adds: “This is where our unity ends.… We are committed to act independently… and base our decision on an independent basis.” Judge Reggie Walton calls the jurors “conscientious” and thanks them for their service. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Associated Press, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007] Court artist Art Lien predicts that the one juror who refuses to wear the red T-shirt will “surely [be] the likely holdout when it comes to a verdict.” [Art Lien, 2/14/2007]
Judge Denies Request to Recall Reporter - Walton denies a defense request to recall NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007). When Russert, who has a law degree, testified for the prosecution, he said he did not know that a witness could have a lawyer present during his testimony before prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see November 24, 2003) and August 7, 2004). The defense has three video clips from Russert’s broadcasts during the investigation of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that indicate he did know witnesses could have lawyers present. Russert was not forced to testify before the grand jury (see August 9, 2004), and the defense argues that he was given favorable treatment by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Had Walton allowed the clips into evidence, he would have allowed the defense to recall Russert to explain the inconsistencies. “It does touch on his credibility,” Walton says. “His credibility, it seems to me, is crucial to this case. He’s probably, if not the most important, one of the most important witnesses.” Lead defense attorney Theodore Wells also argues that Russert misrepresented himself during the investigation, saying, “He went around the country telling people he was this great protector of the First Amendment,” when in fact he had cooperated with the probe. “It was totally kept out of the public record and Mr. Russert took great advantage of that.” But Walton eventually agrees with Fitzgerald, who says Libby’s attorneys already had five hours of cross-examination with Russert after 15 minutes of testimony, and because they were apparently unsuccessful in shaking his credibility, they want a “do over.” Fitzgerald says it does not matter to the case what Russert knew about grand jury procedure, and therefore he should not be recalled. Walton agrees, saying, “It’s a totally, wholly collateral matter.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007]
Denies Request to Admit Classified Evidence - Walton also reiterates his refusal to allow Libby’s former CIA briefers to testify on his behalf (see February 13-14, 2007). Walton says he had decided to allow the defense to enter a large number of classified documents into evidence to prove Libby’s daily workload and bolster his “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006) because he understood Libby would testify in court and subject himself to cross-examination by the prosecution; since Libby is declining to testify (see February 13-14, 2007), Walton rules he will not allow the material to be entered into evidence. “This seeks to get Mr. Libby’s statement [that he did not lie about his knowledge of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status, he merely “misremembered” it when testifying to the FBI and the grand jury] in through the back door without opening him up to cross-examination.… I just don’t buy that, counsel. I don’t think you can play coy by suggesting Mr. Libby is going to testify” and then hold the government to the deal without putting Libby on the stand. “It was absolutely understood from everything that was said to me that Mr. Libby was going to testify.” Defense lawyers should not be able to use the pretrial process for handling classified information to force disclosures based on a particular defense and then use that information in a different way, Walton says. “It’s too much of a game now. This is supposed to be about finding the truth. I won’t permit it.” The defense protests, saying the decision violates Libby’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Walton shakes his head in refusal and says, “If I get reversed [on appeal] on this one, maybe I have to hang up my spurs.” [ABC News, 2/14/2007; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2007; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Stipulation Read into Evidence - Before the defense rests, the lawyers read a stipulation (a statement of fact agreed to by both sides) from former FBI agent John Eckenrode, who led the FBI’s initial leak investigation (see September 26, 2003). Eckenrode’s statement focuses on a report he wrote concerning two occasions of his speaking to Russert about the leak (see November 24, 2003 and August 7, 2004). Russert testified during the trial that Eckenrode had contacted him to discuss statements in which Libby said he had learned about Plame Wilson from Russert (see February 7-8, 2007). Eckenrode’s statement says Russert told him he had one or possibly two conversations with Libby on or around July 10, 2003, but couldn’t remember all the details. Eckenrode stipulates that Russert “[d]oes not recall saying anything about the wife of Ambassador Wilson.… Although he could not rule out the possibility he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it.” The defense hopes this statement helps bolster Libby’s “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006). [ABC News, 2/14/2007]
Testimony Phase Concludes - Fitzgerald does not call rebuttal witnesses, merely reading a brief rebuttal statement noting that Plame Wilson had worked at the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Walton then tells the jury, “All of the evidence has now been presented in this case.” The defense rests its case after only two days of witness testimony over three days, whereas the prosecution’s case spanned 11 days. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007]
Defense Lawyer Says Decision for Libby, Cheney Not to Testify Was His Own - After the jury is dismissed for the day, Wells tells the judge that it was his decision not to have either Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney testify (see February 13-14, 2007). “It was my recommendation,” he says. “I had the vice president on hold right up to the last minute. [H]e had his schedule open.” Wells says the defense began to reverse its initial intention to put Libby on the stand when the government turned over evidence that could undermine the testimony of some prosecution witnesses. He cites the grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, another Plame Wilson identity leaker (see February 13, 2004). “The canvas and the landscape radically changed” after the defense learned more about the government witnesses, Wells says. The defense does not believe the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby perjured himself before FBI investigators and a grand jury. Wells says: “There’s no box on the verdict sheet that says ‘innocent’ or ‘you didn’t tell the whole story.’ The box says ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’” Ultimately, Wells says, “We have to make decisions on our client’s best interest.” The trial now moves to closing arguments and then jury deliberations leading to a verdict. [ABC News, 2/14/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/14/2007; New York Sun, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Art Lien, Ari Fleischer, John Cline, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, John Eckenrode, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Reggie B. Walton, Theodore Wells
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]
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