Thursday, February 08, 2007

TV reporter Tim Russert contradicts Libby in perjury trial

TV reporter contradicts Libby in perjury trial
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prominent TV reporter contradicted testimony by Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Wednesday as the prosecution neared the end of its perjury case against the former vice presidential aide.

Libby resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff when he was charged with lying to investigators as they sought to determine who leaked the identity of a CIA operative after her husband Joseph Wilson criticized the Bush administration. Nobody has been charged with intentionally blowing CIA operative Valerie Plame's cover.

Journalist Tim Russert of NBC News said he did not discuss the CIA operative with Libby in July 2003, offering an account sharply at odds with Libby's recorded testimony heard earlier by the jury.

Instead, their conversation was devoted to Libby's complaints about a show on NBC's cable network, Russert said.

"What the hell's going on with 'Hardball'?" Russert recalled Libby saying. "Damn it, I'm tired of hearing my name over and over again."

"He was very quick with his words," Russert added.

Russert is likely the prosecution's last witness. Other government officials and journalists have testified that the White House was bent on discrediting Wilson after he said the Bush administration twisted intelligence about Iraq's nuclear ambitions as it built a case for invasion.

Jurors earlier in the day heard Libby say, in an audio recording of his grand jury testimony, that Cheney first told him about Plame in June 2003, after Wilson had made his charges anonymously.

Libby said he forgot about Plame until Russert mentioned her in a phone conversation a month later, after Wilson had gone public.

Russert said he couldn't have told Libby about Plame because he didn't know about her until her identity was made public a few days later by columnist Robert Novak.

Defense attorney Theodore Wells asked Russert why he didn't try to pry information about Wilson from Libby while he had him on the phone.

"I didn't have the opportunity, because he was focused on complaining about a program I had not seen," Russert said.

Libby's defense team will try to show that he did not intentionally lie to prosecutors, but simply could not accurately remember conversations he might have had about Plame because he was preoccupied with national security matters.

Jurors have heard Libby speak on tape, but they might not hear him in person.

Libby's lawyers have indicated in a court filing that he might not take the stand, although Cheney is expected to testify on his behalf.