Dick Cheney, US vice-president, will be called to testify as a witness at the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his former chief of staff who stands accused of lying to a grand jury investigating the leaking of a CIA agent's name, a defence lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mr Cheney could become the first sitting vice-president to testify in a criminal case if he appears on behalf of Mr Libby, who has been charged with five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. Only last week, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor leading the investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's name, said he would not call Mr Cheney to testify. But Ted Wells, a defence attorney for Mr Libby, said in court yesterday: "We're calling the vice-president."
Mr Libby's trial is due to begin in the middle of next month. It could become an embarrassing spectacle for George W. Bush's administration, with leading officials expected to take the stand to explain whether Ms Plame's name was leaked because her husband, Joe Wilson, was a critic of the administration's war policy.
In February, Mr Cheney told Fox News: "He's (Libby) a great guy. I've worked with him for a long time, have enormous regard for him. I may well be called as a witness at some point in the case, and it's therefore inappropriate for me to comment on any facet of the case." Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr Cheney said: "We've co-operated fully in this matter and we'll continue to do so."
Two former presidents have previously testified at trials: Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford. "That diminishes somewhat the uniques of this," said Tom Mann, senior fellow at Brookings Institution. "In Clinton's case it was done in a room at the White House. It's a little more awkward in this case because here we have a jury." However, he added: "Compared with the seriousness of matters the administration now finds itself in, especially with Iraq, this sounds like a fairly minor matter. There is a general sense now that with Karl Rove not being indicted [in the same case], there may be less here than meets the eye. It's a sidebar to really serious matters."