MSNBC: Tim, there’s word this week that Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has told a federal grand jury his superiors – not mentioning anyone by name – authorized him to leak information to reporters as part of a justification for invading Iraq. The White House has not commented, but this can’t be something the Bush administration wants to hear.
Tim Russert: No, not at all. The notion that, somehow, classified information would be used and put forward – and you match that with the story put forward in the Washington Post Friday that former CIA official Paul Pillar says the intelligence had been misused to justify the war and there’s almost a drumbeat of suggestions making a case the administration made a decision to go to war and then sought to find classified information to support it.
MSNBC: And, of course, these are the leaks that were related to weapons of mass destruction, but eventually they ended up leaking the name of CIA agent Valarie Plame - which grew into a who other problem.
Russert: There were some suggestion that I read over night that this may be part of Libby’s defense – that he was so deeply involved in the war preparations and the security of the country the he may have gotten confused as to who told him about former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valarie Plame.
He had testified he had first heard it from me. Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in this case, cited at least eight people Libby had talked to before he had ever called me to complain about something he had seen on cable TV. So, there’s obviously a discrepancy and a problem.
But Libby’s lawyers have said that he was a very busy man and he had, perhaps, may have made a mistake in identifying exactly who talked to and got information from.
MSNBC: If there was something illegal that took place here in the leaking of the information, would Fitzgerald be going after the vice president or is that something outside his purview?
Russert: I don’t know. Great question.
Thursday night, on NBC’s Nightly News, we had a former spokesperson for the CIA on, saying the vice president can not just arbitrarily decide to declassify something. But we have not heard any indication, whatsoever, from Fitzgerald’s office, that he is pursing any kind of investigation of the vice president.
MSNBC: First we had Joseph Wilson and former NSC counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clark, and now Paul Pillar, all talking about how intelligence wasn’t what we thought it was. Is there more to come?
Russert: This debate’s going to go on and on. It was a colossal intelligence failure. In terms of the future, we want this president or the next president to be able to go to the country and the world and talk about Iran or North Korea in a way that can believed and trusted. We have to find a way to fix our intelligence gathering.
MSNBC: Will you be talking about this Sunday, on Meet the Press?
Russert: Boy, will we ever. We’re going to have a very interesting program.
The president and the vice president have said only a handful of members of congress have been briefed about this secret eavesdropping plan. We’ve got four of them on Meet the Press Sunday – the chairman and the vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-MI and Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS and the former leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Tom Daschle – four people who were briefed on this eavesdropping plan before it became public.
Exactly what were they told? IN what form where they told? Did they raise any objection? What’s their sense now of this program?
It should be quite an interesting hour, Sunday, on Meet the press.