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Tim Russert’s Not Quite Complete Denial About Role In CIA Leak Case

Reported by Ellen - May 24, 2006

Near the end of an otherwise fawning interview with Tim Russert on last night’s (5/23/06) Hannity & Colmes, Alan Colmes asked Russert about his role in the CIA leak case. The first time I heard Russert’s response, there was something about the wording of his denial that struck me as a bit odd. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that Russert has consistently responded with the same cagey wording.

The exchange began with Alan Colmes asking, “UPI reporting that Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Plame case, said in court papers that Scooter Libby was told in 2003 that Valerie Plame was a classified CIA employee by his boss, Dick Cheney. Previously, it was claimed that he was told about Plame by you. Which is the truth? Do you have any idea?”

Russert(stuttering a bit): Well, all I know is what I know personally – that Scooter Libby called me in June to complain about something that had been on the cable TV show. I didn’t know who Valerie Plame was until I read Bob Novak’s column.”

Colmes: You had no idea – was it known in Washington she was a CIA agent?

Russert: If it was, I missed it, I’ll tell you. And NBC didn’t have the story. I wish we had. And now that I read what Mr. Fitzgerald has presented to the court, there’s not only the vice president, there are at least eight other officials in the government who had conversations with Scooter Libby about Valerie Plame. So I’m pretty low down on the food chain. And I wish I had known.

Colmes: Was it your sense that he found that out from you before anybody else?

Russert: How could he? I didn’t know.

Colmes: Yeah.

Russert: I mean, if I had known who she was, you know what? Let me tell you. (Stutters a bit.) I should say, Libby never told me. I wish he had because I would have called in my correspondents. I would have -

Colmes: Right.

Russert: As it turned out, after Libby called me to complain about what was on the show, I called the president of NBC News, saying, ‘Expect a call from Libby. He’s furious about what he saw on TV.' End of subject.

Colmes: So you never told him. That’s not what happened.

Russert: I can’t tell anyone what I didn’t know myself.

What struck me as odd was that Russert never flatly said “Libby was wrong. We talked but not about Plame. I don’t know why he says I’m the one who gave him the information.” It turns out, Russert hasn’t said that to anybody else either. He keeps using the same “I didn’t know who Valerie Plame was” denial. As the blog Just One Minute points out, publicly denying knowledge of her name and that she was a CIA operative is not at all the same as denying having told Libby that Wilson's wife, whose name may have been unknown to Russert, worked at the CIA in a role unknown to him.

It would have been great if Colmes had asked, “So, prior to reading Robert Novak's column on July 14, 2003, had you heard rumors or allegations that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA in some capacity? And did you mention this possibility to Libby?” (H/T JustOneMinute which has an excellent run down of this whole subject)

But Colmes was either unaware of Russert’s past parsing or he chose not to pursue the issue and changed the subject by asking Russert which guests he'd like to have on Meet The Press.

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