View Full Version : Cheney Is Expected To Make A Historic Appearance On The Witness Stand

02-11-2007, 07:45 PM
Cheney will be vulnerable if he testifies for Libby
Act of loyalty will carry a considerable risk


By Scott Shane and Jim Rutenberg
Published: February 11, 2007

WASHINGTON: One witness has dominated the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. without even showing up in the courtroom. Day after day, the jury has heard accounts of the actions of Vice President Dick Cheney, watched as his handwritten notes were displayed on a giant screen, heard how he directed leaks to the press and ordered the White House to publicly defend Libby, his top aide and close confidante.

Now, as the defense phase of the perjury trial begins, Cheney is expected to make a historic appearance on the witness stand. It is an act of loyalty that carries considerable risk for Cheney.

If he testifies, Cheney will bring to the jurors the awesome authority of his office and could attest to Libby's character as policy adviser and family man, to his crushing workload and dedication to keeping the country safe. That could give extra heft to Libby's defense against the charge that he lied to the FBI and grand jury: that he was so occupied with important matters of state, he did not accurately remember conversations from July 2003.

But the first 10 days of testimony has already exposed some of the long-hidden workings of Cheney's extraordinary vice presidency, revealing how deeply the vice president himself was engaged during 2003 in managing public relations as the administration's case for war came under attack.

Under cross-examination by Patrick Fitzgerald, a veteran prosecutor who is likely to be deferential but dogged with questions, the vice president may be forced to describe in uncomfortable detail how he directed the counterattack on Joseph Wilson 4th, the former ambassador who accused the administration of twisting pre-war intelligence.

"This could be great theater," said Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University. Anything Cheney says for the defense, Shane said, becomes "fair game" to be picked apart by the prosecution.

If Cheney makes a statement that conflicts with the public record — and nearly every witness so far has done so at least once — it could prove embarrassing for him and for the administration.

"If Cheney said anything that's contradicted in the record, though I think that's unlikely, Pat will slam him," said a former federal prosecutor who knows Fitzgerald. "He'll do it respectfully, but I have no doubt he'll do it," said the attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his relations with people in the case.

No testimony so far has supported the idea, proposed by some critics, that Cheney deliberately sought to punish Wilson by ordering the exposure of the covert employment by the CIA of his wife, Valerie Wilson. It was the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's CIA job that sparked the criminal investigation that ultimately led to perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Libby.

But the trial has chipped away at the public image of Cheney as a sober- minded policy architect and tough political combatant who is never rattled by the sniping of critics or the fickle commentary of the press.

When Joseph Wilson published an op- ed article in The New York Times lambasting the administration, Cheney was "upset," Libby said in 2004 grand jury testimony, replayed at the trial. Contrary to Wilson's claims, the vice president had known nothing about the former ambassador's trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA or his conclusion that Iraq was not seeking uranium there, Libby said.

"He often cuts out an article and keeps it on his desk somewhere and thinks about it," Libby told the grand jury of the vice president. The jury has seen Cheney's clipping of Wilson's July 6, 2003 article, on which he penned notes and questions.

The jury has also heard how the vice president responded by dictating talking points for the media to subordinates and hastily summoning conservative columnists to a lunch. Most strikingly, Cheney cleared with President George W. Bush the secret declassification of a significant intelligence document on Iraqi weapons so that it could be leaked to a reporter whom he and Libby saw as friendly — Judith Miller, then of The New York Times. "The vice president instructed me to go and talk to Judith Miller and lay this out for her," Libby said in the grand jury tapes.

The leak to Miller on July 8, 2003, failed — she wrote nothing — but four days later, Cheney was trying again, listing for Libby the main points he wanted made to Matthew Cooper, then of Time magazine, and other reporters. Cheney, Libby said, "dictated to me what he wanted me to say to the press."

A few months later, when Libby was being discussed publicly as a possible target of the criminal investigation, Cheney weighed in again. He directed the White House spokesman to publicly clear Libby just as he had cleared Karl Rove, Bush's political adviser.