ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Vice President Cheney's name came up in evidence today at the perjury trial of his former aide, Lewis Libby. The prosecution was playing tapes of Libby allegedly lying to a grand jury, which is looking into the leak of a CIA agent's identity. The jury also heard testimony by NBC newsman Tim Russert.
NPR's Nina Totenberg was at the courthouse, and she joins us now. Nina, Libby's defense is that he forgot about the CIA agent, who was the wife of a critic of the Iraq War, until he heard that information from Tim Russert. So what can you tell us today about Tim Russert's testimony?
NINA TOTENBERG: Well, this is the first day, Michele, in which the courtroom was absolutely full, proving the draw of a TV personality. And Tim Russert walked into the courtroom this afternoon on a crutch, and the first thing the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, asked him was what the crutch was for, and he said he'd broken his ankle, and he's been on crutches for about 10 weeks.
And the prosecutor then dispatched this witness, the direct testimony of this witness, in precisely nine minutes, and that is because, from the prosecution's point of view, what he has to say is very simple. He says that what Libby says is absolutely wrong. Russert said that Libby called him around July 10th, after Joseph Wilson's article accusing the administration of twisting intelligence, after that article had been published, several days after that article had been published.
But that was not the subject of the conversation, that Libby was calling him with a complaint. That basically when he picked up the phone, Libby was there with a blast. He was, quote, "very agitated." He said things like what the hell is going on there at NBC, at "Hardline." He was complaining about Chris Matthews and "Hardball," excuse me.
I hear - damn it, I'm hearing my name mentioned over and over and over, and it's not true. And Russert said he then told Libby well, I don't have management responsibility over MSNBC, but I would suggest that you call the vice president for news for all of the network or the head of MSNBC, and he gave him the telephone numbers for those two men.
And then Prosecutor Fitzgerald said well, did you ever in fact discuss Wilson's wife with him? And he said well, I couldn't have given him any information about Wilson's wife because I didn't know that information until several days later. In fact, on July 14th, when everybody else found out the information, I read it in Robert Novak's column. And as I read it, I said to myself wow, this is really significant, this is really big. I asked my people if we had known about this.
And the prosecutor said: And had any of them in fact known about this? And Russert said no, they had not. And that's of course significant because Libby says that Russert told him, yeah, all the reporters know this information when he allegedly told - in Libby's account - told him about Valerie Plame Wilson.
NORRIS: So this testimony would seem to refute the tapes that were played in the courtroom yesterday, quite potentially damaging to the defense. How do they try to mitigate that?
TOTENBERG: Well, it's devastating to the defense, and it's a direct, absolute, unqualified contradiction that Russert repeated over and over again on cross-examination every chance he got.
The cross-examination is not complete yet, but I would say that defense lawyer Ted Wells made at least some embarrassing progress along those lines. He at one point brought up the fact that Tim Russert had said himself in a press interview that he had not had a telephone conversation with one of his critics and that he eventually had to eat those words in a letter that he wrote to the Buffalo News apologizing for not remembering that phone conversation.
And the headline in the Buffalo News, before he apologized, was: Tim, don't you remember? So this was, you know, this was making some headway on that matter. And in addition to that, there is the fact that Russert - this is what the defense is trying to make of it - that Russert was interviewed without complaint by the FBI and then sought to not appear, not be subpoenaed before the grand jury and said that he had press reasons for not doing that, that he was trying to protect confidential sources; because if other people saw him testifying before a grand jury, he wouldn't have confidential sources.
But he'd already talked to the FBI, so that's the point that the defense was making.
NORRIS: I'm so sorry to cut you off, Nina, but we're just about out of time. That was NPR's Nina Totenberg at the federal courthouse here in Washington, D.C.