Video: Cheney in hot seat?

msnbc.com
updated 10/28/2005 4:58:05 PM ET 2005-10-28T20:58:05

At the White House today, the reaction from the president’s spokesman once again was brief. 

“This is an ongoing investigation.  We’re not going to comment on it,” repeated Scott White House Press Secretary McClellan.

From the beginning, the vice president has been a central figure.  It was Cheney who in early 2002 first asked the CIA about an unconfirmed report Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, and it was Cheney, despite strong skepticism from the CIA, who first ratcheted up public fears in arguing for war. 

In a speech, the vice president said, “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.”

The New York Times reports the vice president’s chief of staff Scooter Libby turned over notes to prosecutors indicating he learned the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson worked at the CIA from Vice President Cheney. 

The timing of the meeting reported to be on June 12 is significant because it came before a Video: Countdown to indictments

crucial June 23 conversation between Libby and New York Times reporter Judy Miller and before press reports in July, including one from Bob Novak, where Valerie Plame’s CIA status was publicly revealed. 

While legal experts say Libby faces possible legal jeopardy for testifying he learned about Plame from reports, the implications for Cheney could also be dramatic. 

According to Jonathan Turley of the G.W. Law Center, “For the vice president to be the source of this name, it puts him at risk of being an unindicted co-conspirator or even an indictment.”

Legal analysts say it all depends on a series of questions in which prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the vice president may only know the answers.

What did Mr. Cheney tell investigators about his alleged conversation with Libby?  Did the vice president encourage or counsel Libby to take any actions?  Did the vice president know Wilson’s wife was undercover? 

There are also now more questions about the vice president’s first public statements on this issue from September 2003 on "Meet the Press."

He said, “I don’t know Joe Wilson.  I’ve never met Joe Wilson.”

The vice president left the impression he knew nothing about Wilson or his trip to Niger. 

Based on the Libby notes, as reported by the New York Times, Cheney at least knew about Wilson and his wife months earlier and heard about the couple in a conversation with then CIA Director George Tenet. 

But Tenet and Cheney clashed repeatedly before the Iraq war, and Tenet has told former intelligence officials he never talked about Joe Wilson or Wilson’s wife with the vice president. 

Tenet adds he was never asked about this while meeting with prosecutor Fitzgerald’s investigators a year and a half ago and was never called to testify. 

It’s not clear how this apparent dispute between Tenet and Cheney will be resolved by prosecutors.  In the meantime, legal analysts say the revelations about the Cheney-Libby meeting justify the growing fears among White House supporters. 

“Libby is so close to the vice president that to indict Libby, it would be hard not to nick the vice president.  You can’t get a clean shot at Libby without coming a hair’s breath from the vice president — they are that close,” said Turley.

The grand jury in this case is scheduled to meet tomorrow and again on Friday, if necessary. 

When asked about the status of this investigation, the alleged meeting between Libby and Cheney and the apparent discrepancies with CIA Director George Tenet, Patrick Fitzgerald’s office said, "No comment.”

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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