So who are you going to believe? NBC’s Tim Russert (who it turns out was a favorite of Dick Cheney’s people in getting their spin out) or “Scooter” Libby (who frequently scooted to do Mr. Cheney’s bidding)? To wit:
NBC’s Tim Russert, the last prosecution witness in I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial, testified Wednesday he did not inform Libby of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, as Libby has said.
Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, told FBI investigators and a grand jury he first learned Plame’s identity from Russert during a conversation on July 10, 2003. He later recanted, saying a note he found had jogged his memory, and that he initially heard the name from Cheney about a month before.
Russert was asked by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald whether the two discussed Plame. “No, that would be impossible because I did not know who that person was until several days later,” Russert said.
Asked whether Libby told him about Plame, Russert responded, “No.”
And it seemingly gets worse for Mr. Libby:
Rather, Russert said, Libby called to complain about comments anchor Chris Matthews had made about him on MSNBC.
“If he had told me [Plame’s identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it,” the moderator of “Meet the Press” said.
And, indeed, that sounds true to form. Big news organizations don’t just let their reporters (even star ones) running around like The Lone Ranger from the 1950s on stories that require a major commitment on the part of the news organization.
Russert added that there would be some question whether they could broadcast the information, “because that would be a significant story.”
While cross-examining Russert, Ted Wells, Libby’s lawyer, tried to bolster the defense argument that Libby couldn’t recall details about Plame because he was immersed in other issues.
Wells asked Russert: “Did you tell the FBI you speak to many people on a daily basis and it’s difficult to reconstruct one from several months ago?”
Russert said he did not remember telling the FBI that it was difficult to reconstruct conversations but agreed that it was true.
This trial is shaping up as the equivalent of lifting a rock in a forest and seeing the little insects crawl out, stunned by the light of day. It’s still too early to tell, but it’s looking like in the end Mr. Libby may have to do some time, but the person who may come out with the most soiled reputation will be a certain person whom you should avoid going hunting with.
And the press? More and more Washington elite journalists and columnists are looking like willing and unwilling pawns in a game in which information is officially manipulated for political ends. If Cheney, Libby & Bush are getting a black eye, the press should have a red face.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.