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the Libby Trial

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« on: February 10, 2007, 11:52:17 pm »

Defense to challenge Russert's credibility

NBC's Tim Russert denies disclosing the CIA operative's identity
Libby said he first learned her name from Cheney, according to taped testimony
Disparities in Libby's testimony due to stressful job, defense is expected to argue
Libby was heard saying he didn't believe Plame's identity was classified

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The defense in I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury trial is expected to challenge the credibility of NBC's Tim Russert, the prosecution's star witness, on Thursday.

The "Meet the Press" host testified on Wednesday that he did not inform Libby of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, as Libby had said.

Russert's testimony has been a huge blow to the defense, according to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Russert rounded out the prosecution's quick and effective approach, he said. (Transcript)

Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, told FBI investigators and a grand jury that Russert told him of Plame's identity in a conversation on July 10, 2003. Libby later recanted, saying he came across a note that jogged his memory, and that he first heard her name about a month earlier from Cheney.

Russert was asked by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald whether he and Libby discussed Plame. "No, that would be impossible because I did not know who that person was until several days later," Russert said.

When asked whether Libby told him about Plame, Russert responded, "No."
Russert said Libby had called him 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.

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.

Libby's defense is expected to argue that any discrepancies in what Libby told investigators came because of his difficult role as a busy government official distracted by urgent national security matters.

Libby is charged with lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak of Plame's role as a covert CIA operative. He says he didn't lie but was so swamped with national security issues that he forgot details about her.

Plame's identity was revealed after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged in a New York Times editorial that the Bush administration twisted facts to support an invasion of Iraq.

Wilson had gone to Africa to investigate claims that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy raw material to build nuclear weapons. Wilson said he told the CIA that he had found no evidence to support the claim but that the information later was repeated in President Bush's State of the Union address.

Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard tapes of Libby telling a grand jury that he learned of Plame's identity from Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby said in the audio recordings that he came across a note that indicated he first learned the information from Cheney.

"And so I went back to see him [Cheney] and said, 'You know I told you something wrong before. It turns out that I have a note that I had heard, heard about this earlier from you,' " Libby said in the recordings.

" 'I didn't want to leave you with the wrong statement that I heard it from Tim Russert. I had in fact heard it earlier, but I had forgotten it.' "

Asked about Cheney's response, Libby said, "He didn't say much. You know, something about 'from me,' something like that, and tilted his head."

Libby said that before he found the note, he thought Russert first told him about Plame.
That recording was among the last of eight hours of audio from Libby's 2004 testimony in a secret grand jury investigation.

Libby's defense plans to question the credibility of Russert and has asked the prosecutor for notes relating to any leniency he received for his testimony.

The prosecution said that Russert did not receive special treatment as part of negotiations that led to his 2004 deposition with the FBI, in the criminal inquiry of Libby.

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.

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