Tim Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief and host of "Meet the Press," is a pivotal witness to the only crime so far charged in the inquiry into the disclosure of a CIA agent's classified identity that has consumed the intersecting circles of news organizations and politics in which he has been a prominent player for years, the New York Times Todd Purdum reports in Monday editions. Excerpts:
The five-count grand jury indictment against Libby charges that he called Russert "on or about July 10, 2003" (four days before Valerie Wilson's identity became public in a column by Robert Novak) "to complain about press coverage of Libby by an MSNBC reporter" (by all evidence, Chris Matthews of "Hardball") and "did not discuss Wilson's wife with Russert" at all.
If the charges in the indictment are true, it is by no means clear why Libby would have told investigators and the grand jury in March of last year that Russert was his source, except that he may have believed that Russert and the other journalists involved would not testify in the case.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is clearly counting on the credibility of the 55-year-old Russert, a popular figure who cut his teeth in Washington more than 25 years ago as an aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, and last year published a best-selling memoir about his father, as a crucial witness against Libby at any trial. But he would be far from the only one.