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Cheney to be defense witness in CIA leak trial

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Posted: December 19, 2006 5:29 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2007 5:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff in the CIA leak case, defense attorneys said Tuesday, ending months of speculation over what would be historic testimony.
    ‘‘We’re calling the vice president,’’ attorney Ted Wells said in court. Wells represents defendant I. Lewis ‘‘Scooter’’ Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction.
    Sitting presidents, including Clinton and Ford, have testified in criminal cases, but presidential historians said they knew of no vice president who has done so.
    William Jeffress, another of Libby’s attorneys, would not say whether Cheney is under a subpoena to testify. Issuing a court order to a sitting vice president could raise separation-of-powers concerns, but Jeffress said it was not an issue.
    ‘‘We don’t expect him to resist,’’ Jeffress said.
    Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who said last week he did not expect the White House to challenge his witnesses, said Tuesday he did not plan to call Cheney.
    Wells immediately said he would.
    ‘‘That settles that,’’ Fitzgerald said.
    Neither Jeffress nor Wells would say whether they expect Cheney to testify in the courtroom or offer videotaped testimony to avoid infringing on the separation of powers.
    ‘‘We’ve cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness to the parties involved,’’ said Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president. ‘‘As we’ve stated previously, we’re not going to comment further on a legal proceeding.’’
    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.
    Libby says he was focused on more important issues — including terrorism, Iraq and nuclear proliferation — and didn’t remember his conversations regarding Plame.
    Cheney could bolster that argument by testifying about the many other larger issues Libby was responsible for. During cross-examination, Fitzgerald likely will press Cheney to acknowledge that Plame was a key concern for him, and thus would have been important to Libby.
    The trial could offer a behind-the-scenese look at the Bush administration’s march to war and U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he planned to ask potential jurors whether their feelings on the administration’s policies would interfere with their ability to serve.
    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.’’
    In addition to Cheney, other 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 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.
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