It's all on Russert

Arguments on both sides in the Libby case today suggest that NBC'sTim Russert, and his testimony, will be the focal point of the trial.

Published January 23, 2007 10:50PM (EST)

The Libby trial has broken for the day, and we'll have our wrap-up on it later, but for now a few words about what appears to be a potentially central point of the trial: the role of reporters in the case, and specifically the role of NBC News' Tim Russert.

As we noted earlier today, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald emphasized Russert in his opening statement this morning, making him, his conversation with Libby and Libby's testimony about that conversation the proverbial tipping point wherein Libby's perjury is proved.

If anything, Libby defense attorney Ted Wells made Russert even more central to his opening argument. That's hardly surprising, considering that two of the five charges against Libby are based solely on his recollections to the FBI and the grand jury of his conversation with Russert, and another is based in part on the recollections of that conversation. Much of the time Wells devoted to Russert was spent on suggesting that, contrary to Russert's testimony, Russert knew about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity before July 10, 2003, when Russert and Libby spoke by phone. This, Wells said, was because two of Russert's colleagues at NBC, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory, already knew about the Wilsons. It's important to note here that Wells has no actual proof that Gregory or Mitchell told Russert about Joseph Wilson or his wife; he doesn't need any -- he just needs to create in the minds of the jury the impression that Gregory or Mitchell may have done so.

As in the case of Ari Fleischer, who has had his credibility brought into question by Wells because of his deal with the government, Russert's credibility will apparently be questioned. This is because of a deal he made "whereby," according to Wells, "he would only be questioned about his conversation with Scooter Libby and he couldn't be questioned about anything else."

"We'll explore that deal," Wells warned, "when Mr. Russert comes to court."

Finally, Wells discussed Libby's relationship with Russert, noting that they were not friends, and asked why, in that case, Libby would make up a story that required Russert's cooperation -- or, at the very least, silence -- to hold up. That's where our earlier quote of the day comes in, as Wells suggested Libby would have to be crazy to do such a thing.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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