Could Vice President Dick Cheney be a star prosecution witness in the perjury trial of his former chief of staff?
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald suggested in a court filing Wednesday that Cheney would be a logical witness for the prosecution because the vice president could authenticate notes he jotted on a copy of a New York Times opinion column by a critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Fitzgerald said Cheney’s “state of mind” is “directly relevant” to whether I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s former top aide, lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how Libby learned CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity and what he later told reporters.
Libby “shared the interests of his superior and was subject to his direction,” the prosecutor wrote.
“Therefore, the state of mind of the vice president as communicated to (the) defendant is directly relevant to the issue of whether (the) defendant knowingly made false statements to federal agents and the grand jury regarding when and how he learned about (Plame’s) employment and what he said to reporters regarding this issue,” according to the filing.
Cheney’s spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said, “Since the inquiry relates to a case in the courts, I refer you to the Office of the Special Counsel.”
In the Times op-ed on July 6, 2003, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson — Plame’s husband — accused the administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.
In 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to Niger to determine whether Iraq tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger to build a nuclear weapon. Wilson discounted the reports. But a version of the allegation, attributed to British intelligence, wound up in President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2003.
Cheney wrote on the article, “Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an ambassador to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?”
Cheney upset about allegations
Libby told the agents and the grand jury that he believed he had learned from reporters that Plame was married to Wilson and that he had forgotten that Cheney had told him that in the weeks before Wilson’s article was published.
In his grand jury testimony, Libby said Cheney was so upset about Wilson’s allegations that they discussed them daily after the article appeared. “He was very keen to get the truth out,” Libby testified, quoting Cheney as saying, “Let’s get everything out.”
Libby also testified that he did not recall seeing Cheney’s notes on the Wilson article.
Cheney viewed Wilson’s allegations as a personal attack because the article suggested the vice president knew that Wilson had discounted the reports that Iraq had tried to buy the material from Niger.
Eight days after Wilson’s article, syndicated columnist Robert Novak identified Plame and suggested that she had played a role in the CIA’s decision to send Wilson to Niger.
Fitzgerald contends that Plame’s status as a CIA officer was classified and that Libby was told that disclosing the identities of intelligence operatives like her could pose a danger.
The prosecutor wants to use Cheney’s notes on the Wilson article to corroborate other evidence that he says shows Libby lied about outing Plame to reporters.
Often scribbled on newspaper articles
In a filing last week, Libby’s lawyers said Fitzgerald would not call Cheney as a witness and would have a hard time getting the vice president’s notes admitted into evidence at Libby’s trial, which is scheduled for January.
“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,” Fitzgerald wrote. “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.”
The fact that Cheney’s notations included a reference to Wilson’s wife makes it “more likely than not” that the vice president and Libby discussed her shortly after Wilson’s article was published — and not weeks or months later as Libby told the grand jury, Fitzgerald wrote.
Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney often scribbled on newspaper articles and kept them on a corner of his desk at the White House.
“He often cut out from a newspaper an article using a little penknife that he has and put it on the edge of his desk,” Libby testified, according to a transcript of the grand jury proceeding that Fitzgerald attached to his filing.
Libby testified that Cheney would pull an article out of the pile later and “think about it.”