Guests: Michael Isikoff, Howard Fineman, Sol Wisenberg, Stan Brand
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: From me? That‘s what Vice President Cheney said when his chief of staff and close confidant Scooter Libby confronted him with Libby‘s handwritten note that it was Cheney himself who told him first about the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson. From me? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of HARDBALL. A newly released audio tape from Scooter Libby‘s 2004 grand jury testimony, we hear Libby saying under oath that NBC‘s Tim Russert was the one who told him for the first time about Valerie Wilson and that she work at the CIA. But Tim Russert testified today and said that he never mentioned Joe Wilson or his wife Valerie in a July 2003 conversation with Cheney‘s former chief of staff Scooter Libby.
We also learned the contradiction between what Libby said and the testimony of several others. And closer to home, we learned why Scooter called Tim Russert to complain about me. HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is here with the latest. David, blockbusting news today.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it was huge. Not only with Vice President Dick Cheney learning on the eve of the criminal investigation, the vice president knew that he was the one who started the ball rolling for Scooter Libby. That was the major blockbuster development.
But the other headline from today, Chris, is Tim Russert‘ testimony. Let go back to the summer of 2003. July. Joe Wilson publicly criticizes the Bush administration. And you on this very show in that very seat, pick up the criticism. Analyze it and suggest, does it mean that the vice president knew that one of the main reasons for war was not true even as the president went to the State of the Union?
There were a series of events after Joe Wilson went public. Your analysis. Other reporters were picking up on the criticisms. The key question in this case has been, did the office of the vice president take certain actions during that week that contributed a few days later to the outing of Valerie Wilson, the CIA operative as a way to try to undercut Joe Wilson. So what Scooter Libby did is when he testify, he said that a conversation that he had about you to Tim Russert complaining to Tim saying, what the hell is going on with HARDBALL? I‘m tired of hearing my name. What‘s going on is not true.
When Scooter Libby was telling that to Tim Russert, Scooter Libby then testified in the cause that it was Tim Russert who told Scooter Libby about Valerie Wilson. Tim Russert of course denied that and said it would have been possible because Tim Russert didn‘t know anything about Valerie Wilson until Valerie Wilson was actually outed.
Because the jury today heard Tim Russert‘s testimony, 12 minutes on direct and two hours in cross-examination. And Tim kept saying to the lawyer, counsel, my testimony is I never talked about Valerie Wilson with Scooter Libby.
I didn‘t ask about Joe Wilson. Just before the jury heard Tim‘ testimony, they heard these audio tapes. So let‘s play the audio tape where Scooter Libby under oath at the grand jury is testifying and saying he did hear it from Tim Russert. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: OK. Now he told you - and what‘s your best recollection of the words Russert used concerning Wilson‘s life, what he said?
LEWIS “SCOOTER” LIBBY, FORMER CHENEY CHIEF OF STAFF: Did you know that his wife or Ambassador Wilson‘s wife, Wilson‘s wife, or whatever he said, did you know that his wife works at the CIA?
QUESTION: And you said?
LIBBY: No. I don‘t know that.
QUESTION: And his response?
LIBBY: Yeah all the - something like, yes, yeah, all the reporters know it.
QUESTION: And your response?
LIBBY: No. I don‘t know that. I wanted to be clear that I wasn‘t confirming anything.
QUESTION: And why were you so concerned that you didn‘t confirm anything to Mr. Russert about something you weren‘t providing him?
LIBBY: I just - because sometimes reporters will call you with something that you don‘t know and try to get you to confirm it. Sometimes reporters will call you and try to get you to confirm something. You may or may not know what they‘re calling you with is true or not. For example, before the president took a trip to the Azores before the Iraq War, there were rumors among the press that he was going to go the Azores and some reporters called me and said, “Hey, we hear the president‘s going to the Azores, doesn‘t that mean everything‘s falling apart?”
And I had to be very careful in talking to them to say, I can‘t - I don‘t know anything about whether he‘s going to the Azores, I am not confirming anything about whether he is going to the Azores, that sort of thing. I wanted to make sure they didn‘t play off what I said to be confirmation they could go out and print something and I didn‘t want him thinking any - that I was in any way confirming something about the wife because at the time I didn‘t know it.
QUESTION: And at the time did you think there was anything sensitive about whether his wife worked at the CIA that you wanted to make sure that you weren‘t a confirming source for that.
LIBBY: Not sensitive in the sense of a classified factor or anything. I didn‘t know it. I had forgotten what I knew and I didn‘t know it was true or false or anything. I didn‘t want to be a confirmation of that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: “I had forgotten what I knew and I didn‘t want it to be true or false.”
The big problem, Chris, Scooter Libby he has with that, he acknowledges in his testimony in another section that a month before that conversation, he is having a conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney and he is writing down what Cheney is telling him about Valerie Wilson working in the counter proliferation division at the CIA.
And so there you have the conversation. Because Scooter Libby is mad about you. He is angry about what HARDBALL is doing. He has a conversation with Tim Russert that week. Four days later, Valerie Wilson is outed in a column.
And the focus was, was there an administration effort to try to discredit Joe Wilson by using the information about his wife. And there‘s Scooter Libby flat-out saying, I heard this from Tim Russert. There‘s Tim Russert‘s testimony saying we never discussed it at all.
MATTHEWS: What has come out in the trial. And this is important to anyone who cares about the war in Iraq. Especially those who don‘t think it was good for America to go into Iraq. One wonders how we got talked into it.
Is the question here, why did the administration, the president go on national television before we went to war and say there was a nuclear threat from Saddam based upon British intelligence there was a deal from Saddam to buy nuclear material. Uranium yellow cake from the government of Niger.
When more than almost a year before that, in fact, a bit longer. About a year before that, Joe Wilson, the former ambassador had been sent by the CIA to check out that story and came back with a blank. There was no evidence of such a deal to buy uranium by Saddam Hussein.
Why did the vice president‘s office continue to say for this whole period and for all I know, they keep saying it. It wasn‘t the vice president‘ inquiry about that deal that led to the trip. When we now have other evidence throughout this trial. It was the vice president who triggered the trip.
If that‘s the fact, what does it matter whether Mrs. Valerie Wilson suggested her husband to do the trip? What matters is, and still matters is that the vice president wanted to know about that deal. And when he did find out, if he did find out about it, why didn‘t he tell president there was no deal?
SHUSTER: They wanted to spoil the entire story. The theory was, and the evidence has come out. If they attach Valerie Wilson to this and suggested nepotism. That‘s the only reason Joe Wilson went on the trip. He shouldn‘t be believed.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s a lie. Because of all the testimony we have got and all of the evidence by writers like Mike Isikoff, that the reason they sent Joe Wilson down there, was because the vice president who is an extremely powerful man in this administration and head of intelligence basically for the president. Wanted to know if these bogus Italian newspaper articles, whatever they were, these documents, were right that there was a deal to buy uranium from that African country.
SHUSTER: Right. And three months into the war when no weapons of mass destruction had been found. People are wondering the intelligence, the vice president didn‘t want his office attached to that claim in the State of the Union.
MATTHEWS: Because he was afraid people would then say, if he had something to do with triggering the trip, you must have gotten the report back. There wasn‘t any deal to buy uranium from Niger. And therefore, why didn‘t you tell the president?
That would be a reasonable question to take to the vice president. When I took that to George Tenet, the head of the CIA, I said, how can the vice president have triggered a trip to spend all this money to send Joe Wilson to Africa and check this out and not get a report back that there was nothing to the deal. And Tenet said to me as if we were in high school, ask him. Ask Cheney. As if Cheney had gotten the report, refused to admit he got the report, or for some ridiculous reason was able to avoid getting the report. I can‘t tell from this kind of conversation. As I said, it sounds like high school. Ask him.
SHUSTER: Well, it goes even beyond that, Chris. It is not just a question of let‘s just pin it on Joe Wilson and let‘s ignore whether the vice president triggered this trip. Every conversation that the vice president‘s office directed with reporters was focused on this narrow issue, Joe Wilson, Valerie Wilson. There is something phony about the trip. Joe Wilson is not to be believed.
MATTHEWS: The man we are looking at right now has played a major role in this trial without jumping to any legal conclusions. It seem like the testimony, and it is not challenged by anybody, from his own chief of staff is that he worked hand in glove with Scooter Libby in terms of his press relation throughout this. That he was getting guidance, if not orders from his veep, from the boss on how to put this story out.
And how to deal with putting to bed the charge that the vice president had something to do with the cover-up about WMD.
SHUSTER: Right. And some of the tape we‘re getting later this hour, you hear the vice president telling Scooter Libby according to Scooter Libby that the vice president didn‘t want his press aide dealing with the Wilsons. He wanted Scooter Libby, a violation of their own protocol, he wanted Scooter Libby so that the vice president could leak information on the record and on background.
MATTHEWS: He said he wanted it done right. He didn‘t want a Harvard Law graduate, Cathy Martin to handle it. He wanted somebody at the highest level to put this story out.
Let‘s bring in a couple experts.
Michael Isikoff. You wrote a great book. “Hubris.: It is a hell of a book which gives the whole political context to this and how it relates to the way. And Howard Fineman who is great. He is with us as well.
Let me start with you, Michael. What did you learn today with the prosecution case that continued with the testimony of Tim Russert and the release of the grand jury taper from Scooter Libby himself?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, the grand jury tape are context. And I think that it was actually kind of a brilliant move by Fitzgerald to play the whole thing. Because it let the jury stand in Fitzgerald‘s shoes as he is trying to get, he has already taken testimony from all these others witnesses who said they had these conversations with Scooter Libby about the wife. They told him about the wife. He was interested in the subject. He wanted to know how it would work. What paperwork there would be with the CIA, that was David Addington‘ testimony, if a spouse sent somebody on a trip.
So clearly, he was focused on the thing. Then he gets there before the grand jury and says I didn‘t know anything about this. I did at one point. The vice president told me but then I forgot. And I don‘t really again, until Tim Russert tells me.
And to have the jurors hear how Libby was foggy about all these other conversations that other people have already testify to. And then the particularity in which he describes the Russert conversation. And then have Russert we never had such a conversation at all. We couldn‘t possibly have had such a conversation.
It really, I think .
MATTHEWS: Is there any way, and I know I‘m being rhetorical. Let me to go Howard. Watching this case as a “Perry Mason” fan, how in the world, though I am somewhat close to a small piece of it, how do you as a juror not have to decide between the veracity of Russert and the veracity of Scooter? Don‘t you have to choose? Or can you fall back on this Ted Wells theory and say, we‘re all failure when it come to memory and he who is without guilt, cast the first stone. Is that how it will end up, this dumb show, we‘re all dumb. We don‘t have good memories?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: No. I don‘t think it will end up that way. As Mike was pointing out, the prosecutor has engineered it in hopes that it won‘t end up that way. The whole purpose of the last few weeks has been to undermine put in question Scooter Libby‘s credibility in every conceivable way. And then you come in with 12 minutes from one of the most credible people in America. Tim Russert. That was the dramatic narrative that Fitzgerald wanted and that he got today.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of the cross-examination of Tim? His direct was only 12 minutes, the prosecutor, Fitzgerald, was very economical in using him. He made a clear case, Tim‘s denial that he ever had this conversation, followed by two hour already of cross and two hours apparently to come they‘re promising from the defense bench.
FINEMAN: Well, they‘re going to do what they can. As you‘ve pointed out, the whole theory of the case is that everybody in the White House was really forgetful. And they‘re going to try to show that reporter and even bureau chiefs can be forgetful, too.
But what Tim has going for him in addition to his enormous credibility and good judgment. Is that nobody can show that he knew anything about Valerie Plame until well after the conversation with Scooter Libby. So what Tim is saying quite logically, it seems to me, is I didn‘t know anything about it. How could I possibly have mentioned her? So it is not just his credibility but the sequence of events.
MATTHEWS: Here is the tricky question for all of us, because I am trying to figure it out. Why did Scooter Libby, a man of some competence, he must have a lot of competence. And he is serving his country. Let face it. A very low salary. He was a big money lawyer who chose to serve his country instead. Why he would place all his chips on the public claim under oath that he heard all this from Russert? Why would he do such a thing if he has a brain?
ISIKOFF: It is either one of two thing. Either he honestly thought that.
MATTHEWS: With such particularity.
ISIKOFF: Which such particularity, which I think Fitzgerald thinks is going to strain the juror‘s credulity or he is trying to insulate the vice president. There is no other reason for .
MATTHEWS: You mean he had a hot potato and he threw it at Tim.
ISIKOFF: Yeah. This was all about protecting, insulating his boss, the vice president. And he thinks at the point he first tells the conversation that Russert will never testify about it.
MATTHEWS: I know. That‘s not Tim‘s territory.
For 10 years, according to testimony today, the vice president guided, let‘s put it carefully here, guided his chief of staff and how to deal with certain information. Like the fact that there was a note Libby, the chief of staff, came across that showed the vice president was in fact the one who let him to the Valerie Wilson identity. And he goes, what did he say? Me? What? Me? That‘s almost comical. From me?
But the fact is doesn‘t that suggest a more intense conversation between the two of these, which is being alluded to here, where the vice president says don‘t bring me into this, bozo.
SHUSTER: And that‘s the conversation prosecutors have not been able to get is was there in fact that direct conversation?
MATTHEWS: How could you get it.
SHUSTER: You can only get it if Scooter Libby were to up in. That‘s why they‘re trying to convict him and get him to squeal even though they‘re not counting on it.
MATTHEWS: So they‘re going to threaten him with 20 years time to get him to turn on the vice president.
Did you know that?
SHUSTER: I think that is prosecution theory. You build a pyramid.
You try to squeeze the people below and get to the top.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the way Fitzgerald operates in Chicago and everywhere else, yeah.
SHUSTER: Back to your point about the timing. Why blame it on Tim Russert? Here the prosecution theory. Remember, 2003. They‘re heading into election year. The president spokesperson, the president himself has already that, anybody in my administration involve in this will no longer be part of the administration. The White House is out there denying they were involved in this. If they blame it on reporters, if Scooter Libby says I got this from Tim Russert, he has to know that reporters are going to try to fight this in court.
MATTHEWS: Where is the president during all of this? Is he Ted Baxter? Is he just a spokesman for these guys? Howard is laughing because we know Ted Baxter. It seem like all this goes on and he is not even in the frickin‘ - I‘m sorry, he‘s not even in the story.
SHUSTER: Let me finish—Even the president himself has to know that reporter are going to fight like hell not to testify like they did. They didn‘t force Judy Miller, Matt Cooper to testify for another year.
MATTHEWS: Can I let Howard respond to why he was laughing? Please.
FINEMAN: Well, because the furiousness of their defense here is tragic and comic in retrospect. In the spring and summer of ‘03, I was on the receiving end of some of these phone call for some of what I wrote. Not about Joe Wilson but other things speculating about the vice president‘s motives. And the vice president‘s office was all over everybody. And I think the reason they were so furious was because the president didn‘t know what Dick Cheney was doing half the time. And Cheney didn‘t want to get caught. That‘s my theory.
MATTHEWS: Well, I got visited by at least three archangels of death from that time from that same direction that didn‘t like what I was saying.
Anyway, the panel is staying with us. We‘ll have more of the Libby audiotapes as this special edition of HARDBALL returns. And remember, you can go to hardball.msnbc.com to read the Libby tapes and the HARDBALL transcripts that apparently had something to do with Scooter Libby‘s - at least if you look at the time sequence - his call to Tim Russert. A call that he would probably wish now he hadn‘t made.
Coming up later, attorney Stan Brand, former counsel of the House of Representatives is coming here. You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff, who is also the author of “Hubris, the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, which is what we‘re talking about tonight.”
Let‘s go back to David Shuster for more Scooter Libby grand jury testimony which is on tape. David?
SHUSTER: Well, Chris, in this next chunk, Scooter Libby is talking about his conversations with Vice President Dick Cheney in September of 2003. At this point, Valerie Wilson had already been outed. There was an announcement of a criminal investigation. The White House is getting pounded by reporters about whether Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and others in the White House were involved. At this point in the grand jury testimony you‘re about to hear, Scooter Libby has already acknowledged that he had a conversation with Vice President Cheney which he told Vice President Cheney, I‘ve looked at my own notes. It appears I first learned about Valerie Wilson from you. And Libby says the vice president looked down and said, “What me?” And then Libby testified the vice president told him, maybe we should not talk about the details. The testimony of Scooter Libby to the grand jury picks up there.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: And the third conversation, the one where you pointed out that you had seen a document indicating that you had learned this the first time from Mr. Cheney himself, the vice president?
LIBBY: Yes. And when I say third, I don‘t know the chronological order.
QUESTION: OK. So there could have been - so that might not have been the third conversation like you had said.
LIBBY: Something like that, yeah.
QUESTION: And the conversation when you told the vice president which is at least the second conversation when you said in effect, let me correct myself because I saw a document indicating that I learned it from you, not from Mr. Russert, the first time, was that before you had been interviewed by the FBI?
QUESTION: And the third conversation, that was before you were interviewed by the FBI?
LIBBY: I think they were all before I was interviewed by the FBI.
QUESTION: And did he ever indicate to you other than saying that you don‘t have to tell them everything, the reason why he didn‘t want to know?
LIBBY: I think one of the times when I went to see him to tell him that I wouldn‘t be available to him, that I would be out for the day for an FBI interview or something like that, he said, “Fine” and held up his hand, you know, “I understand.”
And either said or I took from it, you know, we shouldn‘t talk about the details of this.
QUESTION: Now continue on the document and I‘ll just finish off the shortest piece. This handwriting on the left that appears to say “Tenet, Wilson and memo” above the three hole punch.
LIBBY: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: And do you know whose handwriting that is.
LIBBY: Looks like the vice president‘s.
QUESTION: OK. And do you know what - does that ring any bells with you? Was there any discussion in your presence about Tenet, Wilson and the memo?
OK. And then below the line, before we break, let me just see if I read this correctly. “Has to happen today. Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect -“ Why don‘t you read it since you know his handwriting better than me.
LIBBY: “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Now, what‘s happening here, Fitzgerald is trying to press Scooter Libby about his conversations with Vice President Cheney. Some of them Scooter can remember. Some of them he apparently can‘t. So Fitzgerald is trying to refresh his recollection with notes. One of the notes that he just read was when Vice President Cheney was actually trying to get Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary to publicly clear Scooter Libby to the same degree that McClellan had cleared Karl Rove. That was the reference to not going to sacrifice one guy while the other is stuck in the meat grinder.
But Chris, what it gets to is here was a time where again, Fitzgerald was trying to determine, how did the vice president and Scooter Libby in Iraq at this time when they knew a criminal investigation was beginning, and Fitzgerald is trying to pursue, did they coordinate Scooter Libby‘s alleged lies to the FBI? Because a few weeks later, there‘s Scooter Libby at the FBI saying, I first heard it from Tim Russert. Maybe I did hear it from Vice President Dick Cheney. But I forgot. I learned for the first time or I thought did I from Tim Russert.
MATTHEWS: Howard, so much of this is when you put it together and connect the dots was an effort by Scooter Libby who may, if you want to read it a certain way, comes off as an almost total loyalist to the vice president. Although he alludes to certain facts. He has to to protect himself from perjury to some extent.
He continually leaves open a positive assessment. He never says the boss told me to do this. The boss told me to do that. The boss was afraid that he would be fingered as the guy who basically lied to the president and set us up for a war without justification.
It seems so much loyalty being show here. I just wonder if that‘s not the bigger story here, that the prosecutor here, Fitzgerald, really wanted to go after Cheney. But it was Scooter who protected Cheney so effectively that remember, Fitzgerald said he was like the guy who threw sand in the umpire‘s race and he couldn‘t make the call.
FINEMAN: I think that is most fascinating revelation of this trial so far. The “Me?” statement of Vice President Cheney.
And there‘s no crime I don‘t think—There wouldn‘t have been a crime in the vice president‘s disclosing the name of Valerie Plame. Because don‘t forget, Mike, and correct me if I‘m wrong, the vice president had been given the authority unique in this administration, by the way, to declassify information on his own hook.
FINEMAN: So that is not what Fitzgerald is going after here. Fitzgerald is going after the possibility that there was some kind of conspiracy to obstruct justice or suborn perjury. Those are the fancy names for some kind of deal between Cheney and Libby. The extent to which we don‘t know at this point. There may be more. And as David Shuster suggested, if Libby is convicted, we may get a more vivid recollection of some of those conversations than we have now.
MATTHEWS: You know who knows everything? The vice president and his former chief of staff and confidant Scooter Libby. We‘re trying to figure out the shape of this big elephant here. Piece by piece, leg by leg, trunk by trunk.
And they know it all and have known it all from the beginning. This is a mystery story because they don‘t want us to know what‘s behind the mystery.
HARDBALL will be back in a moment with more Scooter Libby grand jury testimony. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff.
Let me go back to a part of the testimony today that we haven‘t been able to show you yet. But it has to do with Scooter Libby‘s on the record and under oath testimony about why he call to complain about this program.
When we go back and look at the tapes of the two days before his complaint, it is clear what he didn‘t like. If you look at the logical - what do you call it? Timeline here. He didn‘t like the fact that you kept asking the question of our guest. Wait a minute. If we know that the vice president‘s query is what led to that trip to Africa, why didn‘t the vice president get a report on that trip?
And I kept asking those questions. And apparently, and also, what was the role of Scooter Libby in all of this? He is in charge of the paper flow that goes to the White House. Also in charge of intel. He would have known there was a contradiction between what the president was saying in his State of the Union and the lack of hard evidence there was a deal to provide uranium yellow cake for the Iraqi government. It just seems to me, that‘s what bugged them.
SHUSTER: And to underscore that, Scooter Libby is making transcripts of HARDBALL and they‘re being distributed to him and Vice President Cheney.
MATTHEWS: Every night.
SHUSTER: Every night. And remember the president is on his way to Africa. There are all these questions about whether there should be a retraction of the president‘s State of the Union and whether it was vice president‘ fault that he got wrong. What Scooter Libby apparently got so infuriated about, is that he - the White House was putting out statements saying the office of the vice president says, we did not send Joe Wilson on this fact-finding mission. We did not hear about the report. We were never briefed. And they wanted shows like HARDBALL to accept that as gospel and when you didn‘t, that‘s where they went nuts.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of gospel, I‘ve been following this trial now for a week or two. What we‘re hearing under oath is that in fact it was the vice president‘s query that led to that trip.
MATTHEWS: So they were denying—go ahead. Go ahead, Michael.
ISIKOFF: Look. There are two separate issues there, one, everybody, and Cheney‘s office ultimately acknowledged that it was the vice president‘s inquiry that prompted the CIA to dispatch Wilson on the trip. And they were making a distinction. We didn‘t tell them to send Joe Wilson on this trip. His wife did.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s—those are two parallel realities. There is no contradiction in the fact that the CIA said we have got to check out what the vice president wants to us check out. Who do we got? Somebody piped up, Valerie Wilson. My husband is a former ambassador from that area. She knows the people.
That is not a contradiction. They‘re posing it, no—they‘re posing it as a contradiction. The fact is it was the vice president‘s inquiry. You have to ask if you‘re in the job I‘m in, if it was his inquiry that led to this expensive trip to Africa, why the hell didn‘t he get a report on the trip. And I still don‘t have an answer.
ISIKOFF: And that gets to the substance which really is the larger issue here. Howard alluded to before that the vice president got the president to authorize him to disclose contents of the then classified national intelligence estimate. They wanted, Cheney‘s office wanted the reporters to believe, and the country to believe that that classified NIE backed up the claim about uranium. Backed up the intelligence.
MATTHEWS: If I send you a nasty - Michael, I have got to make my point here.
ISIKOFF: It didn‘t. That‘s the real point here.
MATTHEWS: If I send you a nasty letter, I don‘t blame it on the mailman. That was the vice president‘s ploy here. We‘ll be right back with David Shuster, Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff and we‘ll add an experienced prosecutor and a defense attorney to our panel who are very experienced in these kinds of cases if there ever was one like this, when we come back.
This is MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome to HARDBALL. Very late today, America finally got to hear the voice of Scooter Libby as he testified before the grand jury about his actions in the outing of a CIA agent, Valerie Wilson. With me tonight, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff. Now joining us, two attorney, Sol Weisenberg and Stan Bran.
Let‘s begin with David and more of the Libby testimony.
SHUSTER: This next chunk, Chris, is from Libby testifying about July 12, 2003. Two days before Valerie Wilson was publicly outed in a newspaper column to. But to back up, it was a week before Joe Wilson goes public, criticizes the bush administration. The next day, Ari Fleischer testifies that Scooter Libby provides him with information about Valerie Wilson and suggests Ari Fleischer should use that to undercut Joe Wilson.
The day after that, Judy Miller from the “New York Times” testified that Scooter Libby took her to lunch. That Libby had declassified a national intelligence estimate, thought that would also bolster the idea that Joe Wilson should not be believed.
Then on July 12, Scooter Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney on Air Force Two trying to figure out what to do about magazine calls from a series of reporters about whether Joe Wilson should be believed.
And this testimony come after Scooter Libby has acknowledged, he is not entirely sure, it is possible. It may not be possible. He can‘t recall whether he and Vice President Cheney discussed using Valerie Wilson‘s status to try to undercut her husband. Let‘s watch the tape.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: And so on July 12th, Vice President Cheney was still determined to get the full story out, correct?
LIBBY: That‘s correct, sir.
QUESTION: And the notes show all week he said anything less than he complete truth would be a mistake, correct?
QUESTION: And during that time the vice president was also expressing doubts about the validity of Ambassador Wilson‘s conclusions because, number one, he didn‘t think that - he thought it unusual that they had used a former ambassador to take this trip, correct?
LIBBY: You say during that week and it could be during that week, I just don‘t recall there was a discussion during that week but that could be, I recall them later and as you pointed out we have - he had something like that on the lunch of the 19th. When Vice President Cheney said get the full story out, what I understood by that was the NIE, the January 24 document, the CIA‘s comments in February to the IAEA, those sorts of things.
The substance, the full substance that he wasn‘t the one who told, etc.
QUESTION: Well, when Mary Matalin, we saw her notes last time, talked about it, get the full Wilson story out, get Wilson‘s motivation out. Correct?
LIBBY: Mary Matalin had said that. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: That‘s what she talked about, correct.
LIBBY: I don‘t know if that was her word. That was my note about the type of things she was saying, I think.
QUESTION: And when Vice President Cheney talked about it with you for the first time that your notes reflect, he brought up that Wilson‘s wife worked at the CIA in the functional Office of Counterproliferation. Correct?
LIBBY: Back in June.
QUESTION: Back in June.
LIBBY: Yes sir.
QUESTION: And the column July 6th written by Mr. Wilson with the vice president‘s annotations asked, did his wife send him on a junket, correct?
LIBBY: Whenever he made that note, yes sir.
QUESTION: And so you told the FBI in your first interview or one of your two interviews that it is possible the vice president could have told you on Air Force Two that you should tell the press about Wilson‘s wife, but you do not recall that happening. Correct?
QUESTION: And doesn‘t that remain true?
LIBBY: It remains true that it was possible. I don‘t remember it happening.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: It‘s possible Scooter Libby said, that Vice President Cheney discussed with Scooter Libby using Valerie Wilson‘s status to undercut her husband. And Chris, remember, this is two days, two days before Valerie Wilson was publicly out asked again, prosecutors have been trying to determine what exactly happened, what was going on at the office of the vice president. What actions did they take, possibly leading to the outing of Valerie Wilson? And there you hear Scooter Libby saying, it is possible the vice president and I discussed that information.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Sol Wisenberg. Sol, is it possible that a guy can avoid a perjury charge by constantly saying, it is possible. I don‘t know. Without admitting it.
SOL WISENBERG, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Yes. The classic way of avoiding a perjury charge is to say, I don‘t recall. But it is even craftier if you will, assuming that‘s what you‘re trying to do, to say it is very possible I did this. I just can‘t recall for sure.
MATTHEWS: But if the worst case is true here about the vice president. And who knows? We‘re not in the room. The vice president knows right now if he is watching and Scooter Libby knows right now if he is watching. To the extent the vice president was giving orders. Scooter, do this, I‘ll take care of you later. Scooter, do this, I‘ll take care if you later. We don‘t know if that happened. It could have been, I would this and Scooter is getting the message, the boss is upset. He doesn‘t want to be brought into this and acted on his own volition.
But each step of the way, we‘re hearing Scooter allude to a conversation with the vice president that preceded in action by him. Are we to assume that a jury is going to say, there is a connection?
WISENBERG: That‘s not really the jury‘s job here. You talk about the worst case for the vice president. Even if the vice president did order him to do that, it is not even clear that that would be a crime. It looks like Mr. Fitzgerald, at this point in the grand jury examination, is looking at whether or not there is possible coordinated obstruction of his own investigation.
MATTHEWS: You mean, the reference he made when he delivered this indictment against Scooter Libby. That he saw someone throw sand in the face of the umpire as he put it.
WISENBERG: That‘s true. In that particular case, he was talking about Scooter Libby himself. He was very careful.
MATTHEWS: Right. Let me go right now to Stan Brand. This case, are you watching it closely enough to determine how well the prosecution is doing with the D.C. jury here?
STAN BRAND, FORMER COUNSEL, U.S. HOUSE: As well as you can from a distance in reading the press reports. This is a very tightly brought and drawn case by Patrick Fitzgerald. And he has now a series of witnesses that have undercut Scooter Libby‘s basic claim of being forgetful in the context in which all of these people in the White House were obsessed with the Wilson, with Wilson and Plame. So it is a credibility contest between Scooter Libby and all the other witnesses. That‘s what the jury will have to decide. Is there a reasonable doubt that Scooter Libby criminally intended with the requisite criminal intent to mislead and lie to the grand jury. That‘s what they have before them.
MATTHEWS: Would they want to know, jurors, what his motive was or wouldn‘t they care? If his motive was loyalty to the boss, would that be exculpatory or would that harden the case against him?
BRAND: I think Patrick Fitzgerald said, I remember on the day of the indictments. I didn‘t charge motive. But a lot of what he has brought into this case has been motive. Has been why would these people be so upset and concerned about this to the point that Scooter Libby in his case would purposefully lie and mislead? That‘s the motive.
The motive is the subject you‘ve been exploring on your show every night. Which is, keeping the truth from people about weapons of mass destruction and the motives for this guy going to Africa. That‘s the larger context. That‘s the motive for Scooter Libby if he did, going into the grand jury and lying.
MATTHEWS: Do you know why I keep focusing on it for a very common sense reason? People I know and respect supported that war for one reason only. Not for regional politics or some grand neoconservative theory but because they believed the administration case. That we were threatened by a nuclear Hell from Iraq from Saddam Hussein if we did not take him out.
And that is why I want to focus on this. Because that story was without foundation.
We will be back with our panel and remember, you can go to hardball.msnbc.com to read the Libby transcripts and the HARDBALL transcripts that perhaps had something to do with Scooter Libby‘s call, now somewhat controversial to Tim Russert. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.
I want every one on the panel right now, David Shuster, Howard Fineman, Michael Isikoff, attorney Sol Wisenberg and Stan Brand, each of you perhaps in that order to answer this question. Will Scooter Libby testify? Will he submit himself to this hard-nosed prosecutor Fitzgerald under oath?
WISENBERG: I believe that he has to, given how the case is apparently going. I thought at first that if he could get his story out through playing of the grand jury testimony that he wouldn‘t absolutely have to testify. But the way the evidence is going here, he has got to really, as an effective matter, explain to the jury. The jury is waiting to hear him on the stand.
MATTHEWS: Why did scooter have to testify? Because the memory defense, the defense that I‘m too busy on matters of great importance to think about what I said needs to be delivered by the person who claims it.
WISENBERG: Not only that. As a practical matter, I don‘t know if the judge is right as a legal matter it does. As a practical matter it does. But Fitzgerald has put this case together so well with such detail about how the vice president‘ office seem to be obsessed, or some people in it obsessed with refuting Wilson. And the many number of people had a spoke to Libby about Valerie Wilson. As a practical matter, given the contradiction of his grand jury testimony with all that detail. He has got to look the juror in the eye. He has got to be credible.
MATTHEWS: And Russert is not. He has basically got to challenge Russert‘s credibility.
WISENBERG: Not necessarily.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask that question. Can both be right in the eyes of the jury?
Very strong testimony, unexceptional testimony. We never talked about Valerie Plame. A very clear economical statement of fact as he presented it. Can that be shattered by Scooter Libby?
WISENBERG: In this way, it can. It is he can say, look. We have a different memory about this. I remember the conversation one way. And I wasn‘t even interviewed until three months after these events occurred. And I am incredibly busy. And there are a million things that happen in between that time.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to the same question to Stan Brand. Would you think it possible that Scooter Libby won‘t testify?
BRAND: I‘ve always thought this case was going to require him to get on the stand. And I think his lawyers thought that as well. Any time you have credibility contests in court in a perjury case you almost have to put the defendant on. If you want him to be believed over Tim Russert and the string of prosecution witnesses, who have undercut him, I think you have to put him on the stand.
MATTHEWS: Michael, do you see it that way as well? Do you see that coming watching the case? That Scooter has got to come in with the trump card?
ISIKOFF: I would not be shock if he does not testify. I just think the risks are too great. It should be pointed out that they have scored some points. The defense has scored some points. Even today with Russert. That Tim Russert has no notes of the conversation. Wrote no memo about the conversation. Wasn‘t even sure what day the conversation took place. That‘s the kind of thing that could sew some doubt.
All they need is one juror to have enough doubt to get a mistrial. My
if I had to guess right now, I would say Libby will not testify. The more interesting question is whether Cheney is going to testify. They said he was going to. I think the risks on that have gotten too great on that as well.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Howard quickly. Your thoughts. Do you think Libby, the star defendant will have to come out and defend himself?
FINEMAN: I think he is going to have to. Because I take this from politics, not from law. A charge that is not rebutted is a charge accepted. A lot of people like Scooter Libby. A lot of people think he is a charming guy. A decent guy who got stuck in a bad situation here. If he can convey a sense of decency, having been on juries in DC, I can tell that you can matter. So he has got to probably give it a shot even though it is dangerous. As much for Cheney as it is for Libby.
MATTHEWS: I remember Sidney Cardin, the character in “A Tale of Two Cities”, he was innocent too, and a great guy. And he got his head chopped off to defend a friend of his.
SHUSTER: Chris, first of all, Ted Wells who is representing Scooter Libby has a habit of not having his witnesses testify and getting them off. Mike Espy is an example.
But the flip side of this is the judge, one of the more remarkable statements that the judge made from the bench, the judge said he will not allow Scooter Libby‘s defense to argue the memory defense unless Scooter Libby testifies.
MATTHEWS: The judge can call that?
SHUSTER: The judge can call that. Scooter Libby‘s lawyers can get up and say the judge has not met its burden but they cannot argue he forgot if Scooter Libby does not testify.
MATTHEWS: Lets come back and talk about the big enchilada. Will Cheney, and that‘s the way he likes to pronounce his name, Cheney, Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States, the boss and man who oversaw the behavior, according to the testimony so far of Scooter Libby. Will he have to come in and defense his guy who is apparently being quite loyal?
We will be right back with our panel with that verdict. Will Cheney have to show? This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back. We‘re back with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, plus Howard Fineman of MSNBC and Michael Isikoff - and Howard is also of “Newsweek.” Attorney Sol Wisenberg and Stan Brand.
Let‘s start. I‘m going to go around the - it‘s “Hollywood Squares” here but it‘s serious business. Let me go to Howard first.
Howard, as you see the arc of this story, what comes into view? Do you see the vice president showing up as the charge of the light brigade, the cavalry, whatever you want, coming in to save his guy or staying over there in that vice presidential mansion and watching this death knell on television?
FINEMAN: I‘m not sure how he saves him, Chris. If he does come and testify, what does he say, if he says yes I remember telling Scooter Libby that I wanted him to get this information out, how does that help Scooter Libby? I think it damages Scooter Libby.
On the other hand if the vice president says I don‘t really remember anything, then he runs the risk if Libby is convicted, Libby deciding to perhaps find some other recollections there.
I think it‘s tricky for the vice president. I don‘t know how he‘s really going to help Libby any at this point especially in front of a DC jury.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to some later stages in this, Sol.
And that is, if Scooter is convicted, if you‘re looking at the number of counts facing him, if that jury really does go to town, and I hope they‘re not watching and hits him with four or five counts, they add up to big time in some federal penitentiary. Not necessarily Allenwood. Some place where a guy like Scooter Libby would not be very protected from the fellow prisoners. If he faces 20 years somewhere in maximum security he‘s going to think again about his situation, isn‘t he?
WISENBERG: I don‘t think so. He‘s not going to face 20 years. It‘s going to be a guideline sentence. It‘s probably going to be two to three years, something like that.
MATTHEWS: With all of these counts facing him?
WISENBERG: It doesn‘t matter in the guideline system. They‘ll accumulate the counts. He‘ll probably be in a minimum security camp.
MATTHEWS: So he‘ll be playing tennis somewhere.
WISENBERG: And I don‘t think he‘s going to be the kind of person who‘s going to flip anyway.
But to answer your Cheney questions. It‘s very basic, Stan Brand will tell you this, you don‘t put a witness on in a criminal trial unless you think he or she can significantly advance your case. I don‘t see how Dick Cheney significantly advances Scooter Libby‘s case at this point.
MATTHEWS: Stan, can he come as a rather avuncular character witness and come on with that uncle behavior of his and say as if he‘s smoking a pipe, I have a great deal of confidence in this man, he‘s been a great public servant. Let me tell you more about the real Scooter Libby, the one I know. If he tries that, will the DC jury fall for it?
BRAND: No. I think despite Howard‘s disclaimers about nothing being a lawyer, he‘s done a great job. He‘s 100 percent right. Cheney does not add anything to the defense unless he comes in and gives in and gives absolution to Libby and says yeah, I told him to lie. That‘s not going to happen. And so .
MATTHEWS: If he did, what would happen, what would be the result if he said I‘ve changed my mind, I can‘t stand the fact that this man is being punished for something I asked him to do, what happens?
BRAND: Then Patrick Fitzgerald goes back to the grand jury and cranks it up again because now he‘s got an obstruction. I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.
MATTHEWS: It‘s nights like this, by the way, that Scooter Libby calls to complain. Anyway, thank you to the panel, David Shuster, Michael Isikoff, Howard Fineman, Stan Brand and Sol Wisenberg.
COUNTDOWN with Keith starts right now.
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