What Would Cheney Say?
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 1:18 PM
Vice President Cheney's testimony in the criminal trial of his chief of staff -- suddenly a distinct possibility -- would appear to be crucial to the case.
The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that Cheney was at the epicenter of a White House campaign to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson -- a campaign that ultimately included the outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame , as a CIA operative.
Cheney is obviously the person in the best position to either confirm or contradict one of the hardest-to-swallow elements of Scooter Libby's defense: That Libby and Cheney specifically discussed Valerie Plame's status as a CIA operative in early June 2003, and then again after columnist Robert Novak publicly outed her on July 14 -- but not in between.
This is a key element of Libby's defense, because in between, Libby has argued, he "forgot" that he knew.
Libby testified to special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's grand jury that "it seemed to me as if I was learning it for the first time" when NBC correspondent Tim Russert told him about Plame's CIA affiliation on July 10. Russert has denied that any such conversation took place.
Fitzgerald didn't buy Libby's story, and this past October charged him with five felony counts of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice.
And just last week, Fitzgerald released Cheney's handwritten notes scrawled in the margins of Wilson's fateful July 6 New York Times op-ed in which the vice president asked: "[D]id his wife send him on a junket?" (See my May 15 column, The Smoking Pen .)
Fitzgerald, who appears to be sitting on enormous amounts of fascinating information about this case, is dribbling it out only as he finds it necessary to respond to motions by Libby's legal defense team. And in what is turning out to be a signature move, Fitzgerald late last night submitted a legal brief and accompanying exhibits aimed at addressing procedural issues -- and, collaterally, loaded with bombshells.
For one, Fitzgerald yesterday made it clear that he may very well call Cheney as a witness.
In one of the brief's footnotes, of all things, he wrote: "Contrary to defendant's assertion, the government has not represented that it does not intend to call the Vice President as a witness at trial. To the best of government's counsel's recollection, the government has not commented on whether it intends to call the Vice President as a witness."