Plamegate Flashback: Russert Seeing 'Santa Claus' In Libby Indictment

In the Scooter Libby trial, the jury heard a tape of NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert sounding very much like a liberal Democrat expressing glee at approaching indictments in the Plamegate prosecution of Patrick Fitzgerald on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning on October 28, 2005 (in the 8:30 half hour). He said "Santa Claus is coming tomorrow." MRC's Mike Rule dug out the tape to give people outside the courtroom some of the flavor of that giddy conversation: 

Imus: "Here's somebody, if this person who we're going to talk to now doesn't know [who will be indicted in the CIA leak case, or even if indictments are coming] nobody knows. The Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News and the host of 'Meet the Press' Tim Russert. Good morning Mr. Russert."  

Russert: "Good morning Mr. Imus." 

Imus: "So we don't know anything, do we?"

Russert: "Well, I'm just reading this alert here, the Commerce Department says the economy grew by 3.8% in the third quarter."

Imus: "<laughter> And we've been told all morning--"

Russert: "This is an unfolding story, Don, on your watch. You can piece together these different elements of the puzzle. We, too, expect some major developments today. Look, the one word that really intrigued us last night was, 'and prepare yourself for some surprises.'"

Imus: "Who did that come from?"

Russert: "Sources, where else? <Imus and Russert laughter>

Russert: "But I mean, it was like Christmas Eve here last night. You know, Santa Claus is coming tomorrow. Surprises! What's going to be under the tree? But we do expect that this will unfold. Probably in the next hour or two hours, we'll have some indications of where it's headed, and we do expect to hear from Patrick Fitzgerald early this afternoon." 

Imus: "Now see, that's what I'm talking about folks. That's a more responsible, genuine assessment of where we are, what we just got from Tim Russert, than all the jive you're going to get on all these other channels and all these other worthless announcements that people hand you and stuff. I mean, so, it's not like we're sucking up to Russert, but that's why you would go to Russert because you're not going to get your chain jerked after that Luke incident." 

Russert: "Exactly right."

Imus: "I'm sorry."

Russert: "No, go ahead, it's fair, let's play it again. But the interesting thing about all this is that if we had said six months ago that the Vice President's chief of staff or that the President's chief political counsel were prime candidates for indictment, people would begoing crazy. Now that this has played out all week, people are saying, 'oh, just one,' as if there's this expectation. This has happened only one other time in your lifetime, Don, that a sitting White House official was indicted."

Imus: "Okay, when was that?"

Russert: "1875. Ulysses S. Grant, a fellow by the name of Orville Babcock."

Yes, that's very interesting, the excitement at getting Bushies put on trial. Hurray! Is there two inches of distance between Russert and the Daily Kos? Not in this excerpt. Can you imagine Tim Russert sitting on Santa's lap for Whitewater indictments? No. Ken Starr didn't seem too Santa-like in liberal eyes.   

NB's Michael M. Bates hammered Russert on his historical sense of glee. MSNBC's own research on White House-related indictments showed that often indictments came days or months after resignations. It was common for the resignation to proceed the indictment. But some officials -- not on the White House staff, but within the administration -- were indicted in office, such as Reagan's labor secretary Ray Donovan, indicted in office in 1984. It's quite obvious that Russert wanted to hype the importance of the indictment and the forthcoming trial by going back to the Grant administration.

Left out of this conjecture: what if the indictment accomplishes nothing but besmirching a man's reputation? (See Ray Donovan, who asked to which office he should go to get his reputation back. Clearly, the media doesn't really care who gets hurt when there's partisan points to be scored.

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