With Russert on the stand, the Libby case comes full circle

The "Meet the Press" host should put a fine point on the improbable nature of Libby's defense.

By Tim Grieve
Published February 7, 2007 2:00PM (EST)

NBC's Tim Russert takes the stand in the Scooter Libby trial today. And if the "Meet the Press" host testifies as expected, he'll put the finishing touches on the prosecution's case and a fine point on the improbable nature of Libby's defense.

Libby acknowledges that Dick Cheney told him in early June of 2003 that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. He also acknowledges that Cheney -- his boss at the time -- was "upset" and "disturbed" by the allegations that Wilson had made. But while Libby told Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury that White House officials had daily discussions during the summer of 2003 about how to respond to Wilson's charges, he also said that he somehow managed to forget during that time period that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.

A parade of witnesses have told the jury in Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom that Libby didn't forget -- that, in fact, he told them about Wilson's wife in June and early July of 2003. That's what Judith Miller said. That's what Matt Cooper said. That's what Ari Fleischer said. Indeed, so many people have now testified that Libby told them about Wilson's wife that Libby's defense lawyers think it's worth their while to subpoena one reporter -- the New York Times' David Sanger -- who says that Libby didn't tell him anything about her.

And that brings us back to Tim Russert. Libby told Fitzgerald's grand jury that when he spoke to Russert by telephone in July 2003, Russert asked him if he knew that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. ''No, I don't know that,'' Libby claims to have responded. "Yes," he says Russert said, "all the reporters know it." At that moment, Libby told the grand jury, "It seemed to me as if I were hearing it for the first time."

It may be true that "all the reporters knew it" by then -- Libby and Karl Rove and Dick Armitage had made sure of that -- but Russert told the grand jury that little else about Libby's recollection is: He said -- and, presumably, he'll say again today -- that he didn't discuss Wilson's wife at all during his call with Libby.

Tim Grieve

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

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