Russert omitted any mention to his audience of his FBI interview in CIA leak investigation...
By Margie Burns on 2/8/2007, 6:09pm PT  

*** Special to The BRAD BLOG
*** by Libby/CIA Leak Trial Correspondent Margie Burns

What did we learn from Tim Russert today, children?

Well, for one thing, we learned that Mr. Russert was interviewed – apparently willingly --- by the FBI about the CIA leak matter back in November, 2003. Under cross-examination by Libby defense attorney Theodore Wells, Russert disclosed that he had been questioned by FBI Special Agent Eckenrode, formerly the case agent for the Plame matter. Russert said that Eckenrode was the one who informed Russert that Libby had said he (Russert) was his (Libby’s) source on the item that Mrs. Wilson, wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson, worked in the CIA. “Mr. Eckenrode shared with me what Mr. Libby had said.”

Russert is on record as testifying firmly and clearly that he did not tell Libby about Mrs. Wilson; he was not Libby’s source. Though he would do well to be equally clear and direct about everything concerning his involvement in the matter...

Another thing we learned about Russert today – or at least I learned – was that Russert himself trained as an attorney. Not that he put it that way. Under questioning, Russert acknowledged that he was allowed to have his attorney and an NBC attorney when deposed for the grand jury on the Plame matter. When Wells indicated that most grand jury witnesses are not allowed to have attorneys present, Russert allowed as how he “didn’t know that.” When Wells asked gently whether Russert himself was an attorney, Russert answered, “non-practicing.”

Looks as though he skipped that class in law school about how there are only three good answers in a criminal investigation – “yes”; “no”; and “I don’t know.” But it is probably one of the curses of a little legal education that even a J.D. who does not go on to practice continues to believe, for the rest of his breaths, that he is a lawyer.

Questioning by Wells also brought out that Russert drew up an affidavit to quash a subpoena in Judge Hogan’s court, arguing his determination to protect even his “non-confidential” sources --- and not disclosing that he had discussed the matter already, in his FBI interview, which was not mentioned in the affidavit.

Back to that FBI interview in October 2003: also brought out in cross was that Russert did not get around to sharing that FBI “conversation” with his television public, on any of several occasions when the Plame matter was discussed for several minutes’ worth of air time and even when Russert’s own role in the CIA leak investigation was discussed. Russert’s explanation was that the FBI agent requested him to keep it confidential, and he also testified – accurately, I’d say – that he omits sources among other items in news stories all the time.

And that, children, is what I realize finally struck home about the courtroom testimony today. Somehow, it all felt familiar. Once again, I had that feeling one gets, receiving news and information from a few large media outlets – that nagging question in the back of the mind that is always the backdrop, regardless of the story – the unanswered puzzle: what’s being left out here?

In that sense, seeing Mr. Russert in the witness box, crutches resting to the side, is not altogether different from seeing him in the electronic box, though a lot more entertaining.

Can any viewer remember when Tim Russert or any other overpaid underreporter last got around to spelling out for the television audience the immense financial stake his own network has in the “war on terror”? As any journalism textbook will explain, journalistic ethics require disclosure of a writer's own financial or personal stake, if any, in the topic. That's Journalism 101, the fundamentals. But Journalism 101, the basis for going on and accomplishing anything, seems to be exactly the level skipped over by the overpriced pyramid scheme of the network star system.