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The Libby Trial: In Praise of Intelligent Design

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I'm on a break from the Libby courtroom where, since the trial reconvened this morning, we've been listening to the final hours of Scooter Libby's grand jury testimony. And I'm more convinced than ever that there is a God. And that there is indeed an Intelligent Design.

Let me explain: Seven months ago I agreed to come to Washington to speak at the Women on the World symposium being held today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And it was over five weeks ago when HuffPost got a press pass to the trial (which we are sharing with Jane Hamsher and the gang at Firedoglake). At that time, I told Jane that the only day I would be using the pass would be today, since I was going to be in DC giving my speech. So, you atheists, what were the chances that my one day in the Libby courtroom would turn out to be the very same day that Tim Russert would be testifying -- giving a whole new spin to the concept of RussertWatch?

(And for those still doubting the existence of God, what were the odds that on the same day that I posted my six-part reaction to Joe Klein's seven-point response, I would be seated at the same table with Klein at the Washington Press Club Foundation's 63rd Annual Congressional Dinner, held last night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington? We were both very well-behaved, except for during dessert when Klein was absorbed in listening to Rep. John Boehner's stink-bomb of a comedy routine, and I stole the raspberries that surrounded his mango cheesecake.)

Back to the trial: Before making our way to the courthouse this morning (the trial is taking place on the sixth floor of the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse, in Courtroom 16), Jane and I met with Pach and Swopa from Firedoglake at the Firehook Bakery, around the corner from the courthouse. Over coffee, we hashed out some of the highlights of Russert's involvement in Plamegate. As we prepare for Russert to take the stand, here is a timeline (which we first posted in October 2005) that will provide the context for Russert's coming testimony.

And here's a little scene-setting: Jane, Pach, and I are sitting directly behind Harriet Grant (aka Mrs. Libby), a former lawyer on the Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who, I must say, has the most gorgeous long, thick, shiny hair I've ever seen. Every time she shakes her head over something in her husband's taped testimony (I can't say whether it's in consternation or in agreement), I feel like I'm watching a Clairol commercial.

Directly in front of Mrs. Libby is the defense table where Scooter Libby and his lawyers are seated. She and her husband frequently exchange sweet, knowing glances. Watching Libby, I'm surprised at the sympathetic figure he cuts -- at least until the courtroom is filled with his taped voice, and you suddenly are dumbstruck at how he thought he could get away with his endless fabrications. If Libby could somehow deliver his testimony in pantomime, it would definitely be worth the defense's while to put him on the stand. Failing that, I can understand the rumor that he may not testify -- it would take an unimaginable level of lawyerly ingenuity to find a way to reconcile all the irreconcilable stories Libby has put on the record.

Time to go back into the courtroom. Here's the Russert/Plamegate timeline:

May 21, 2004

Federal grand jury subpoenas Russert to testify about whether the White House leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the news media. NBC vows to fight the subpoena.

June 4, 2004

NBC files motion to quash the subpoena.

July 20, 2004

Court rules against NBC, ordering Russert to provide testimony to Fitzgerald. (News of this is not made public by NBC until it's disclosed as part of NBC's Aug. 9, 2004 statement.)

August 7, 2004

Russert interviewed under oath by Fitzgerald.

Aug 9, 2004

NBC releases statement regarding Russert's testifying: "Mr. Russert told the Special Prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby. ...The Special Prosecutor's questions addressed a telephone conversation initiated by Mr. Libby and focused on what Mr. Russert said during that conversation. Mr. Libby had previously told the FBI about the conversation and had formally requested that the conversation be disclosed. The Special Prosecutor can share Mr. Russert's answers with the grand jury."

July 17, 2005

Russert does an entire Meet the Press on Plamegate with Matt Cooper, Ken Mehlman, John Podesta, Bob Woodward, and others. He makes no reference whatsoever to his involvement in the affair. Harry Shearer, in HuffPost's Russert Watch, writes about the huge elephant "in the studio that went unnoticed for the full hour... Like Matt Cooper, Russert had testified to the grand jury on the Plame affair, yet at no point during the interview did the salient fact sally forth to the viewer. The pretense was uninvolved journalist interviewing involved participant: the reality was one pea in the pod interviewing a fellow pea."

July 18, 2005

Russert goes on the Today show to describe the highlights of his July 17, 2005 Meet the Press show. Neither Matt Lauer nor Katie Couric ask him about his involvement, nor does he volunteer anything.

July 22, 2005

Bloomberg News reports that Libby told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of Plame from Russert.

July 23, 2005

Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei write in the Washington Post that "Libby has testified that he learned about Plame from NBC correspondent Tim Russert, according to a source who spoke with The Washington Post some months ago."

July 24, 2005

Mike Isikoff writes in Newsweek that "A deal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald cut last year for NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert's testimony may shed light on the emerging White House defense in the Valerie Plame leak case. ... The deal was not, as many assumed, for Russert's testimony about what Libby told him: it focused on what Russert told Libby. ... This now appears significant: in pursuing Russert's testimony, Fitzgerald was testing statements by White House aides -- reportedly including Libby -- that they learned about Wilson's wife from reporters, not classified documents."

July 24, 2005

Here is how Russert introduces the subject of Plamegate -- and himself -- during Meet the Press's roundtable:

RUSSERT: What we know so far is that in terms of journalists, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of TIME magazine have all testified, either in deposition or before the grand jury. We assume Robert Novak has testified because Judy Miller of The Times who didn't testify is in jail. And there's been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference between the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby of Vice President Cheney's office and Karl Rove of President Bush's office. Bill Safire, what do we make of all this?

As Harry Shearer put it in HuffPost's Russert Watch: "Russert referred to himself in the third person, as if he were suddenly channeling Bob Dole. Harry Shearer likes that."

And then there was this truly odd exchange:

RUSSERT: There has to be an original source, somebody.

GREGORY: Yes.

TOTENBERG: Right.

RUSSERT: Even if it came from a reporter...

GREGORY: Right.

RUSSERT: ...the reporter got it from someplace.

TOTENBERG: Right. And...

RUSSERT: But I was asked what I said. I did not know.

***
Here are two photos from the Congressional Dinner.

DSC00325.JPG

DSC00328.JPGwith Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post.