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Russert says he didn't give Libby agent's ID

Story Highlights

In taped testimony, Libby says Cheney gave him agent's name
• NBC's Tim Russert says he didn't give CIA agent's name to Libby
• Prosecution: Russert did not get leniency in exchange for deposition to FBI
• Defense has requested to get details from that deposition
From Paul Courson
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NBC's Tim Russert, the last prosecution witness in I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury trial, testified Wednesday he did not inform Libby of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, as Libby has said.

Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, told FBI investigators and a grand jury he first learned Plame's identity from Russert during a conversation on July 10, 2003. He later recanted, saying a note he found had jogged his memory, and that he initially heard the name from Cheney about a month before.

Russert was asked by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald whether the two discussed Plame. "No, that would be impossible because I did not know who that person was until several days later," Russert said.

Asked whether Libby told him about Plame, Russert responded, "No."

Rather, Russert said, Libby called to complain about comments anchor Chris Matthews had made about him on MSNBC.

"If he had told me [Plame's identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it," the moderator of "Meet the Press" said.

Russert added that there would be some question whether they could broadcast the information, "because that would be a significant story."

While cross-examining Russert, Ted Wells, Libby's lawyer, tried to bolster the defense argument that Libby couldn't recall details about Plame because he was immersed in other issues.

Wells asked Russert: "Did you tell the FBI you speak to many people on a daily basis and it's difficult to reconstruct one from several months ago?"

Russert said he did not remember telling the FBI that it was difficult to reconstruct conversations but agreed that it was true.

Libby is charged with lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak of Plame's role as a covert CIA operative. He says he didn't lie but was so swamped with national security issues that he forgot details about her.

Plame's identity was revealed after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged in a New York Times editorial that the Bush administration twisted facts to support an invasion of Iraq.

Wilson had gone to Africa to investigate claims that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy raw material to build nuclear weapons. Wilson said he told the CIA that he had found no evidence to support the claim but that the information later was repeated in President Bush's State of the Union address.

Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard tapes of Libby telling a grand jury that he learned of Plame's identity from Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby said in the audio recordings that he came across a note that indicated he first learned the information from Cheney.

"And so I went back to see him [Cheney] and said, 'You know I told you something wrong before. It turns out that I have a note that I had heard, heard about this earlier from you,' " Libby said in the recordings.

" 'I didn't want to leave you with the wrong statement that I heard it from Tim Russert. I had in fact heard it earlier, but I had forgotten it.' "

Asked about Cheney's response, Libby said, "He didn't say much. You know, something about 'from me,' something like that, and tilted his head."

Libby said that before he found the note, he thought Russert first told him about Plame.

That recording was among the last of eight hours of audio from Libby's 2004 testimony in a secret grand jury investigation.

Libby's defense plans to question the credibility of Russert and has asked the prosecutor for notes relating to any leniency he received for his testimony.

The prosecution said that Russert did not receive special treatment as part of negotiations that led to his 2004 deposition with the FBI, in the criminal inquiry of Libby.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said "despite a diligent search," the government has not been able to locate additional notes from Russert's FBI interview on August 7, 2004. The defense is aware of all the accommodations offered to obtain Russert's deposition, he said.

Also in the audio recordings played Tuesday, Libby said he was "surprised" to hear from Russert that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

"Is it your testimony under oath, you don't recall Wilson's wife working for the CIA -- between the sixth [of July] and your conversation with Russert?" Fitzgerald asked.

"That's correct, sir, I don't recall discussing it. I do recall being surprised when I talked to Russert on the 10th or 11th," Libby told Fitzgerald.

Libby and Russert talked on July 10, 2003; Russert has denied he told Libby anything about Wilson's wife.

Wilson's article appeared on July 6, 2003. His wife's CIA connection was revealed in a column written by Robert Novak eight days later that appeared in The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Novak's column caused a political firestorm, and two months later prompted an FBI investigation.

During the past two weeks of testimony and evidence, prosecutors tried to establish Vice President Dick Cheney as the first source of Libby's knowledge that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and sent him on the trip.

Thursday, Libby's defense team is expected to argue that any discrepancies in what Libby told investigators came because of his difficult role as a busy government official distracted by urgent national security matters.


NBC's Tim Russert walks into the courthouse in Washington Wednesday.