By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Lawyers for NBC News reporter Tim Russert suspected in the spring of 2004 that his testimony could snare Vice President Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in a lie and Russert resisted testifying at the time about private conversations with Libby, according to court papers released yesterday.
Russert was aware that a special prosecutor probing the leak of a CIA operative's name knew of his summer 2003 telephone conversation with Libby, and that Libby had released him from any promise of confidentiality. But Russert, the Washington bureau chief for NBC News and host of "Meet the Press," and his attorneys argued in previously sealed court filings in June 2004 that he should not have to tell a grand jury about that conversation, because it would harm Russert's relationship with other sources.
Russert ultimately testified under oath about the conversation after a federal judge ordered him to do so in July 2004. The information Russert provided became important evidence that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald used to indict Libby in October on five felony counts of lying to the FBI and a grand jury, and of obstruction of justice.
Fitzgerald accused Libby of lying to investigators when he said he believed he heard about Valerie Plame's CIA role from Russert in their July 2003 telephone conversation. Russert testified that they never discussed Plame.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan released the court papers involving Russert yesterday. They were sought by the New York Times.
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," they wrote.