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February 8, 2007
Russert on the Hot Seat (updated)
One of the differences between reading live blogging of the Libby Trial and reading or hearing news accounts, is that we have it in real time. Even the most skillful of reporters in the court like Matt Apuzzo have filing deadlines which usually means that they get the direct testimony but not the cross examination in their first stories. But in this case the cross examination is the story.
Tim Russert, who is a key prosecution witness, took the stand for about 11 minutes today to say that he had not mentioned the name of Wilson's wife in his call to Libby. (Libby's grand jury testimony is that he called Russert to complain about the coverage Chris Matthews was giving the Wilson claims, that the conversation was rather heated and was at one point broken off and resumed later or the following day.)
Then cross examination began, and Russert's credibility as a witness was deeply shaken.
Russert said it was "impossible" that Wilson's wife was mentioned in that call because he didn't know it then.
Wells confronted Russert with an incident where he was angry about an article in the Buffalo News critical of Russert's treatment of Hillary Clinton when Russert moderated a Clinton-Lazio debate. Russert had called the reporter twice to complain about the piece, and then denied any recollection of those calls. Finally he wrote a letter of apology, claiming he had no recollection of those calls himself and only his notes revealed the calls had, in fact, been made. (Background to this is here)
Except where otherwise noted, all trial summaries were prepared today by Mainewebreport owner, Lance Dutson. They are not verbatim , official transcripts.
Wells asked him is he'd ever told the FBI that he may have discussed Wilson's wife with Libby in that call and when he denied that, Wells confronted him with an FBI report saying he had.
(From the Media Bloggers Association summary account of the examination):
But the best was the last: Wells brought out that despite filing a pleading in the case seeking reporter testimony arguing that the privilege for confidential sources was key and moving to quash the subpoena served on him, he had already twice recounted both sides of his recollection of the Libby exchange well beforehand and had hidden that from the court in the pleading and the public in what had first appeared to be a principled stand for reporters' privilege.
Firedoglake provides the final testimony of the day:
In sum, Wells established that (a) the FBI report of his conversations (they say he had two, he only recalls one) made far closer in time to the event indicate he conceded that Ms. Wilson's name may have come up in their conversation though he earlier discounted that as "impossible" (b) In a heated matter involving the Buffalo News, his own memory was faulty. He'd made two angry calls to a critical reporter, denied that he had, and then, after checking his phone records, apologized, asserting he had no memory whatsoever of the calls, and (c) while making an impassioned plea for the right of reporters to protect the confidentiality of sources, he'd already twice discussed the Libby exchanges with the FBI and failed to disclose that to the Court or the public.
From a filing by the prosecutor last evening trying to block inquiry into the accommodations made to Russert for his (total of 22 minutes) deposition testimony in his lawyer's offices, it appears that while this last point was not specifically noted in any pleadings I can see, the defense was provided with the FBI notes which provided some notice to them of the discrepancies in the NBC public pleading and that it contained a false suggestion that Russert had not already cooperated with the government. It is not clear that this Court, or the Court which determined the related case on the reporters' obligation to testify, was ever informed that the Russert filing was false.
I cannot believe that tonight is a good night for Russert or for his colleagues Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory, whom I also expect to be on the stand.
The prosecution filed a motion to block Libby from calling her to the stand. I'd be surprised if that succeeds. The prosecution has also signaled it intends to argue that all reporters were treated gingerly because of the constraints of the Department of Justice regulations. In fact, many reporters who clearly were aware of the Wilson/Plame connection were - like Andrea Mitchell (Russert's colleague who famously indicated they all knew) - never questioned by the prosecution or the investigators.
I'll be very surprised if in a case risibly claiming the defendant obstructed the investigation, the defense is precluded from showing that, blinded by his nonsensical view of what happened, the special prosecutor obstructed the investigation himself. We know he granted immunity to the two people who admitted they deliberately leaked Plame's identity (Ari Fleischer and Richard Armitage) and steered clear of so many journalists who obviously knew more about the Mission to Niger and its participants than anyone in the White House did.
I predicted at the outset, the media would regret what they asked for. I was right. In Spades.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
Tom Maguire of Just One Minute speculates about Russert's behavior and motives. Could he have been protecting his job?