The prosecution on Thursday finished making its case in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Libby is accused of obstructing a federal investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. Over the last three weeks, jurors saw a parade of prominent journalists and government officials take the stand. They all contradicted Libby's account that he learned of Plame's identity from Tim Russert of NBC.
Plame is married to Joseph Wilson, a prominent critic of the White House's case for war with Iraq. In 2002, Wilson went on a fact-finding mission to Niger, to determine whether Iraqi officials had attempted to obtain nuclear materials there — a claim made by President Bush in his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address. But Wilson concluded otherwise, and he made his conclusions public in a July 6, 2003, op-ed piece in The New York Times.
The last prosecution witness was Russert himself. Under direct examination, Russert described receiving a "viewer complaint" phone call from Libby about MSNBC's coverage of Wilson's criticisms. According to Russert's testimony, Libby was agitated.
Russert said that Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff at the time, said, "What the hell's going on with Hardball, dammit? I'm tired of hearing my name over and over again. What's being said is not true."
Libby claims that during this call, Russert identified Wilson's wife as a CIA employee. Russert told the jury, "That would be impossible, because I didn't know who that person [Valerie Plame] was until several days later."
The prosecution took only 10 minutes to question Russert. In contrast, the defense questioned him for several hours over two days.
Defense lawyer Ted Wells tried to undermine Russert's credibility. He highlighted a public memory failing that Russert had four years ago, when the NBC Washington bureau chief failed to recall contacting a critic at the Buffalo News.
The cross-examination was often combative. At one point, Wells told Russert, "I asked you a very simple question. I'd like an answer."
Wells wanted to know why Russert talked freely with FBI investigators about a conversation he had with Libby, but fought a subpoena to testify before a grand jury about the same subject. Russert said that with the FBI, he corrected a factual error. In contrast, he said, a grand jury appearance could turn into an open-ended fishing expedition.
Later in the session, Russert sat quietly on the witness stand as the defense played a clip of his appearance on the Imus in the Morning show the day of Libby's indictment. Russert told Don Imus, "It was like Christmas Eve here last night. Santa Claus is coming tomorrow. Surprises! What's going to be under the tree?"
Defense lawyers want to use that clip to demonstrate animosity between Russert and Libby. The difference between the men's stories is at the center of this trial, so the outcome of the case could hinge on which of the two the jury finds more credible.