UPDATE: Russert Takes the Stand at Libby Trial

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By: E&P Staff

One of the most highly awaited moments in the “CIA Leak” trial in Washington, D.C. arrived this afternoon just before 2:30 when NBC’s Tim Russert finally took the stand, after discarding crutches (he broke his ankle not long ago).

Almost immediately, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked about how he learned Valerie Plame’s name and when. Russert said that, indeed, he did talk to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in early July 2003, but he did not — contrary to Libby’s claims — mention Plame to Libby in this July 8 conversation. Libby, he said, had called to complain about attacks on him on the NBC show, “Hardball.” Russert told him he could not do anything about that.

Russert then said that he first heard about Plame in the Robert Novak column about a week later, on July 14, and it was news to him, and to others in office. He then said he had fought a subpoena to testify originally.

Now Russert said it was “impossible” that he talked about Plame with Libby “because I did not know who that person was until several days later.” He said that if Libby had told him about Plame, “I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since a national security issue, my superiors (would) try to pursue it.”

Russert added that there would be some question whether they could broadcast the information, “because that would be a significant story.”

The direct examination wrapped up quickly, and then the defense questioning began with queries about how well Russert knew Libby and if their phone chat was confidential or not.

Libby’s attorney, Ted Wells, repeatedly probed why Russert did not, as he testified, take the opportunity to ask Libby about Wilson at all at this time. Russert explained that this was basically a “complaint” call and it wasn’t the time or place for it, and he really did not have the opportunity. He said it was rare to get this type of harangue from a top official.

He also said he was certain he did not mention Plame in that call and was surprised to hear about it six days later after the Novak column. The defense was clearly trying to suggest that Russert, like Libby, simply forgot he had heard name before when Novak column came out. Russert denied this.

Walls then went into an incident a few years back when Russert had to apologize for forgetting about a phone call he made to complain about an article in his “hometown” paper, the Buffalo News. He also went back to Russert allegedly not honoring the allegedly “confidential” conversation with Libby.

Earlier today, the marathon airing of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case concluded in the Washington, D.C. courtroom.

As the tapes played this morning, they again revealed detailed questoning by prosecutor Fitzgerald concerning Libby’s contacts with reporters — and Cheney — in July 2003, just before and after Robert Novak’s “outing” column appeared. One area of interest: the now famous clipping of former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times that Cheney marked up in the margins, raising questions about Wilson’s wife and so forth. The question was: When did Cheney do that? How far in advance of Novak’s column, and what then followed?

Libby was also asked — when he told Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, and Glenn Kessler about Valerie Plame working at the CIA, did any of them say they already knew that? He said, after a pause, “No.”

As in previous days, E&P will provide updates as the day goes on, largely based on blogging from the courthouse by bloggers at FireDogLake.com.

Just before noon, the FireDogLake blogger reported the following from the 2003 tapes. “F” is Fitzgerald and “L” is Libby. *** Note: This is paraphrasing, NOT a transcript.

F : So when October comes around and headlines are saying two officials may have called six reporters, did VP understand that you had called reporters and discussed Wilson’s wife?

L: (quietly) I don’t recall

F: In late September or October, did you bring it to VP’s attention?

L: Went to him and said I didn’t talk to Novak, added I learned about it from Tim Russert. He tilted his head a bit. I may have said that I talked to other reporters.

F: You’re not sure?

L: I don’t recall. What was important was telling him I did not leak to Novak, and I heard it from Russert, who said all reporters knew it.

F: You say VP tilted his head when you said you learned it from Tim Russert. Did he say, “No, you learned it from me, remember?”

L: No.

F: Did you tell anyone else about talking to those reporters?

L: Well, Cathie Martin knew about Cooper….

F: Did you tell President?

L: No.

F: As far as you know now, does President know you talked to those reporters?

L: I don’t think so

F: And you never told VP?

L: I’m not sure.

F: You were precise in telling him you weren’t source for Novak, but not precise saying you weren’t source for others

N: I’m not sure

F: Did you think this was something Pres and VP would want to know?

L: Did tell VP when investigation began

F: What did he say?

L: Didn’t say much. Something like, “From me?” and tilted his head.

F: Did you tell him about Cooper, Miller, Kessler?

L: No.

F: And you had another conversation after this?

L: Yes, and again offered to tell him everything, he said he didn’t want to know

F: Was this before you were interviewed by FBI?

L: Yes, think all conversations were.

F: Was investigation why Cheney didn’t want to know details.

L: Not what he said.

*** (Again, the above is NOT a transcript.)

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