- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007


NBC newsman Tim Russert testified yesterday he never discussed a CIA operative with former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., contradicting Mr. Libby’s version to a grand jury in the CIA leak investigation.

The testimony came as prosecutors prepared to rest their perjury case against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

Mr. Russert, host of “Meet the Press,” testified about a July 2003 phone call in which Mr. Libby complained about a colleague’s coverage. Mr. Libby has said that, at the end of the call, Mr. Russert brought up war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV and mentioned that the former ambassador’s wife worked for the CIA.

“That would be impossible,” Mr. Russert testified yesterday . “I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.”

That discrepancy is at the heart of Mr. Libby’s perjury and obstruction trial. He is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame.

During Mr. Libby’s 2004 grand jury testimony, he said Mr. Russert told him “all the reporters know” that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Mr. Libby now acknowledges he had learned about Mrs. Plame a month earlier from Mr. Cheney but says he had forgotten about it and learned it again from Mr. Russert as if new.

Mr. Libby subsequently repeated the information about Mrs. Plame to other journalists, always with the caveat that he had heard it from reporters, he has said. Prosecutors say Mr. Libby concocted the Mr. Russert conversation to shield him from prosecution for revealing information from government sources.

Mrs. Plame’s identity was leaked shortly after her husband began accusing the Bush administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq. The controversy over the faulty intelligence was a major story in mid-2003.

Given that climate, defense attorney Theodore Wells was skeptical about Mr. Russert’s account.

“You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don’t ask him one question about it?” Mr. Wells asked. He followed up moments later with, “As a newsperson who’s known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn’t have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?”

“What happened is exactly what I told you,” Mr. Russert replied.

Mr. Russert originally told the FBI that he couldn’t rule out discussing Mr. Wilson with Mr. Libby but had no recollection of it, according to an FBI report Mr. Wells read in court. Mr. Russert said yesterday he did not think he said that.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has spent weeks making the case that Mr. Libby was preoccupied with discrediting Mr. Wilson. Several former White House, CIA and State Department officials testified that Mr. Libby discussed Mrs. Plame with them — all before the Russert conversation.

Mr. Fitzgerald has said Mr. Russert would be his final witness.

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