Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cheney to be called to testify in CIA leak case

Cheney to be called to testify in CIA leak case
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney will be called to testify as a defense witness at the trial of his former top aide who is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case, a defense lawyer said on Tuesday.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is accused of lying to investigators as they sought to find out who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003 after her diplomat husband accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to build its case for invading Iraq.

Administration critics accuse the White House of deliberately blowing Plame's undercover status to retaliate against a critic of its case for war. The White House denies it deliberately revealed her identity.

Testimony by a sitting vice president at a criminal trial may be unprecedented, legal experts have said, though sitting presidents, such as Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford, have given testimony in court cases.

"We're calling the vice president," defense lawyer Theodore Wells said at a hearing ahead of the trial, which is scheduled to start on January 16.

Wells disclosed the defense plan after special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton that the prosecution did not intend to call Cheney.


"We've cooperated fully in this matter and we'll continue to do so," said Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, declining further comment on the proceedings.

Cheney would be the most eagerly anticipated witness of the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks with testimony likely from a number of other current or former top administration officials.

Both Cheney and President George W. Bush were interviewed by prosecutors as part of the investigation by Fitzgerald into who in the Bush administration leaked Plame's identity to the news media.

In May, Fitzgerald said in court papers that Cheney could be called to testify because his hand-written notes appeared on a July 6, 2003, article written by Plame's husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, that accused the administration of twisting intelligence before the war in Iraq.

Fitzgerald gave no explanation at the hearing of why he had decided not to call Cheney as a prosecution witness.

It could be because Cheney would be supportive of his former long-time aide. In a recent televised interview, Cheney called Libby "one of the finest men I've ever known."

Defense attorneys did not say whether Cheney would testify in the courtroom or would give videotaped testimony.

According to the indictment, Libby learned from Cheney himself on June 12, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the CIA.

Libby has pleaded not guilty to the five counts that accuse him of obstructing justice, perjury and lying.

His main defense is that he was so busy in Cheney's office working on important national security issues that he simply did not remember all details of his conversations with reporters about Plame.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)