It was Hail Mary time for Ted Wells, an attorney for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, as the prosecution moved toward resting its case in the perjury trial of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff. On Thursday, Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert was back on the stand to be cross-examined by Wells. The previous day, Russert had kicked Libby’s cover story in the groin. He had disputed Libby’s claim that in the days before the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer he (Libby) had learned about her CIA connection not from official sources but from Russert. No way, the newsman said. The Russert call is critical for Libby, who has maintained he never shared official (that is, classified) information about Valerie Wilson with other reporters and only passed along gossip he had picked up from Russert. But on the stand Russert stuck to his version: he didn’t say anything to Libby about Wilson’s wife during a phone call on July 10 or 11, 2003, because he knew nothing about Wilson’s wife until the leak appeared in a July 14 Robert Novak column.
So what was Wells to do? He started off Wednesday by taking shots at Russert’s memory. (See here.) He made little progress. On Thursday, he tried to undermine Russert’s credibility on other fronts. Wells attempted to make an issue of the fact that until Russert appeared as a witness in this trial he had never divulged publicly that he had talked to the FBI about the CIA leak investigation in November 2003. Wasn’t Russert’s call with the FBI a “newsworthy event?” Wells inquired, hinting that Russert had for years hid part of his involvement in the CIA leak case. Russert explained that he had not reported the conversation because the FBI agent had asked him to keep it confidential.
Wells then tossed far-fetched theories at the jury. On the stand, Russert had said that none of his NBC colleagues had told him anything about Wilson’s wife. What about David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell? Wells asked. None meant none, Russert noted. But Wells still was holding out the possibility that Gregory received leaked information on Wilson’s wife from then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and then quickly relayed it to Russert, who shared it with Libby. It’s a thin theory–especially because neither Russert nor Gregory reported any news about Wilson’s wife at the time. And the timing of real-world events may undermine the theory. But Wells keeps hammering at this possibility.
To buttress this part of his case, Wells tried to play for the jurors a video clip of Andrea Mitchell saying on CNBC in early October 2003 that she had known about Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment prior to the Novak leak. But Mitchell, in two later interviews on Don Imus’s radio show (which also aired on MSNBC), said she had misspoken and she retracted the comment. Wells suggested that Russert and Mitchell had conspired to undo Mitchell’s remark so Russert’s statements related to the leak case would not be undermined. He asked permission to show all these tapes to the jury. “This is nitpicky at best,” Judge Reggie Walton complained. He ruled the tapes could not be played.