Court filings: Russert kept Libby secrets to protect his own reputation

NBC News journalist resisted testifying in the Plame case even after Scooter Libby freed him to do so.

Published January 10, 2006 1:46PM (EST)

We haven't heard much from the Valerie Plame investigation lately, but the Washington Post has just unearthed a little nugget: According to court papers filed in 2004 but just released to the public, NBC's Tim Russert resisted testifying before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury even after Scooter Libby freed him from any promise of confidentiality.

The reason: Russert didn't want to help Fitzgerald catch Libby in a lie because it would be bad for Russert's relations with other sources.

According to the Post's account, court papers from 2004 show that Russert knew at the time that Fitzgerald was aware of a telephone conversation he had with Libby on July 10 or July 11, 2003. And indeed, Fitzgerald was aware of the conversation. According to the indictment Fitzgerald ultimately filed, Libby told the FBI in November 2003 that he had talked with Russert in July 2003, and that Russert had asked him during their conversation whether he knew that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Libby told the FBI that he had told Russert that he wasn't aware of that fact. The indictment charges that Libby's claims about the conversation -- and similar ones he made to the grand jury in 2004 -- were triply false: Russert didn't ask Libby if he knew that Plame worked for the CIA; Libby didn't say he hadn't heard that; and, in fact, Libby had heard that before he spoke with Russert.

By the time Fitzgerald sought Russert's testimony about the conversation, the NBC News host knew why he was interested in hearing about it: It "appears that Mr. Russert's testimony is sought solely because the special prosecutor believes that his recollection of a telephone conversation with an executive branch official is inconsistent with that official's statements," lawyers for Russert wrote. Libby had freed Russert to tell the grand jury about their telephone conversation, but Russert's lawyers argued that their client still shouldn't have to testify because, if he did, he'd risk harming his relationships with other sources.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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