Speculation that Vice President Dick Cheney would testify in the CIA leak trial intensified when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he didn’t expect Bush administration officials to resist calls to testify.
Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, is accused of lying to investigators about what he told reporters regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame’s identity was leaked to reporters around the time that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly criticized the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Fitzgerald did not say Thursday whether Cheney and others in the White House were on his witness list. Government officials and journalists are expected to be key witnesses in the trial, which is scheduled to start next month.
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert are expected to be prosecution witnesses. Libby’s lawyers said in court papers Thursday that several reporters will testify on Libby’s behalf.
Two unidentified reporters may resist testifying, Libby’s attorneys said, but they expect to resolve that issue before trial.
Libby also has sought a subpoena for the tape of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s interview with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage has admitted he discussed Plame’s job with Woodward in 2003 but said it was a passing, inadvertent comment.
If admitted into evidence, the tape could be played at trial. The tape has been turned over to prosecutors, and Libby’s attorneys said they expect no objection to their subpoena.
Cheney, who would be the trial’s most anticipated witness, has said he may be called to testify. If so, prosecutors could ask how the White House responded to Wilson’s criticisms. Cheney was upset by Wilson’s comments, Fitzgerald has said, and told Libby that Plame worked for the CIA.
That conversation is a key to Fitzgerald’s perjury case. Libby testified that he learned about Plame’s job from a reporter.
Cheney could also help prosecutors undermine Libby’s defense that he was so preoccupied with national security matters, he forgot details about the less-important Plame issue. Prosecutors argue that Plame was a key concern of the vice president, and thus would have been important to Libby.
Sitting presidents, including Clinton and Ford, have testified in criminal cases, but presidential historians and separation-of-powers experts said they knew of no vice president who has done so. The first President Bush was subpoenaed to testify in the Iran-Contra trial of Oliver North. At the time, Bush was Reagan’s vice president, but Bush was president by the time a judge ruled he did not need to testify.
Cheney and Libby got to know each other when Cheney was defense secretary under the first President Bush. Libby has been extremely loyal to Cheney and, in return, had the vice president’s unwavering trust.
By 2000, Libby was working as a top adviser to Cheney in the presidential campaign and then followed him to the White House. In the White House, he was known as “Cheney’s Cheney” for being as trusted a problem solver for the vice president as Cheney was for Bush.
Even after Libby’s indictment, Cheney called him “one of the finest men I’ve ever known.”