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Russert and Libby: The Show That Caused the Fury

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The Government charges in Lewis Libby's indictment:

On or about July 10, 2003, LIBBY spoke to NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert to complain about press coverage of LIBBY by an MSNBC reporter. LIBBY did not discuss Wilson’s wife with Russert. (page 7, Paragraph 20.)

Right after the indictment was released to the media, Tim Russert told MSNBC viewers that Lewis Libby called him that day to complain about a reporter's comments on a cable show. He did not identify the reporter or the show.

A little sleuthing on Lexis-Nexis turned up this Hardball transcript for July 8, 2003. The reporter is Chris Matthews, who repeatedly states that the Vice President's office had the CIA send Joseph Wilson to Niger. Here are the revelant portions of the transcript

MATTHEWS: ... I think it's a very aggravating situation over there, and very questionable how long we are going to stay, et cetera. But I want to get back to this. Last year the CIA sent -- the Central Intelligence Agency sent ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate whether that country sold uranium to Iraq.

He, the former ambassador, concluded it was highly doubtful that such a transaction had taken place. And he told Andrea Mitchell on your "MEET THE PRESS" that he was, quote, "absolutely convinced that Dick Cheney's office, the vice president's office was aware of his report before the State of the Union Address."

I want to ask you, Congressman Weldon, does it disturb you? The possibility that the vice president of the United States, his office, learned that this uranium information wasn't accurate, that Saddam Hussein did not try to buy uranium from Africa, and yet they let the president go ahead and say that in his State of the Union Address? Does that bother you?

WELDON: It bothers me that our president used information in his speech to the nation and the world that was not based upon solid evidence and was not backed up and corroborated by our intelligence agency. That bothers me.

MATTHEWS: Why would the vice president's office, Scooter Libby or whoever is running that office -- why would they send a CIA effort down in Niger to verify something, find out there wasn't a uranium sale, and then not follow-up by putting that information -- or correcting that information -- in the president's State of the Union? If they went to the trouble to sending Joe Wilson all the way to Africa to find out whether that country had ever sold uranium to Saddam Hussein, why wouldn't they follow-up on that?

WELDON: Well, that's a question that needs to be answered. I don't know the answer to that. I know Scooter Libby, and I would say this is a legitimate question that many of us have been raising about the specifics in the president's speech and whether or not it was -- we were able to verify the information relative to the attempted purchase of uranium.

....MATTHEWS: Congressman Weldon, it is now in mid-July. This occurred in mid-January. Does it bother you it took the White House until the president was out of the country and to have someone release this information on background without direct attribution to some official at the White House. It looks to me like they tried to bury this bad information today.

Then Matthews interviews Al Sharpton.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about a big head. And former ambassador, Joe Wilson, said that this was cleared by the vice president's office. They are the ones who sent him to Africa to find out whether it was true or not, whether it was action -- there was traffic in nuclear materials between the country of Niger and the country of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He came back and said there was nothing going on like that six months before the speech. Doesn't the vice president's office hold the greatest culpability here for not acting on that truth?

Next, Matthews talks to Howard Fineman:

MATTHEWS: Howard, I worked at the White House. Nothing gets through the president's speech making equipment, is operational unless it's been signed off by the National Security Council, by the State Department, by the vice president's office, by the CIA.

How could all those institutions of government have signed off on something they knew to be false, because the vice president's office sent the CIA down to Niger and Joe Wilson came back and said there was nothing to the story?

Then he goes to Tony Blankley:

MATTHEWS: What about if the vice president's office knew, having sent Joe Wilson down to Niger and found out that there wasn't any such deal over uranium and allowed the president to say what they knew not to be true.

Matthews then sums up:

MATTHEWS: Just to recap, here's what we know. Joe Wilson, a former ambassador in the United States government, was sent to Niger to establish there whether there was in fact an arms deal for nuclear materials between Saddam Hussein and the government of Niger.

He came back and reported back to the CIA at the behest of the vice president's office, that there was no such deal. That office of the vice president, whoever is in there, Scooter Libby on down, or the vice president himself, never told the president that there was nothing to that, that that was a dry hole story. And yet, the president went on television, telling the American people it was true. Somebody's to blame here, and it's a very high level and it's not speculating.

No wonder Libby was steaming.