Vice President May Be Called as Witness
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2006; A01
Vice President Cheney was personally angered by a former U.S. ambassador's newspaper column attacking a key rationale for the war in Iraq and repeatedly directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then his chief of staff, to "get all the facts out" related to the critique, according to excerpts from Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony released late yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney raised as an issue that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA and that she allegedly played a role in sending him to investigate the Iraqi government's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons materials. That issue formed the basis of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's published critique.
In the court filing that included the formerly secret testimony, Fitzgerald did not assert that Cheney instructed Libby to tell reporters the name and role of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. But he said Cheney's interactions with Libby on that topic were a key part of the reason Libby allegedly made false statements to the FBI about his conversations with reporters around the time her name was disclosed in news accounts.
"The state of mind of the Vice President as communicated to defendant is directly relevant to the issue of whether defendant knowingly made false statements to federal agents and the grand jury regarding when and how he learned about Ms. Wilson's employment and what he said to reporters regarding this issue," he said.
The prosecutor also left open the possibility that Cheney will be called as a witness at Libby's trial, scheduled to begin next year, and denied an assertion last week by Libby's lawyers that Cheney would not be called.
Fitzgerald was appointed in late 2003 to investigate the disclosure of Plame's name to the media after the CIA complained that it was an illegal act because she was an undercover officer. His probe has led to a series of disclosures about efforts by the White House to rebut Wilson's published critique, but no official has been directly charged with leaking Plame's name.
Instead, Libby was accused of making false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury, mostly based on his statements that he did not confirm Plame's employment at the CIA and alleged involvement in Wilson's trip when he was talking with two journalists. Libby has denied wrongdoing and said in court filings that he may have forgotten what he said to the journalists because of the press of other business.
Fitzgerald, in contrast, has sought to build a case that Libby was preoccupied with the task of rebutting Wilson's July 2003 column, which accused the White House of twisting intelligence to support its invasion of Iraq -- and that this preoccupation stemmed from Cheney's intense focus on Wilson's assertions. While yesterday's filing largely concerned a side issue -- whether Libby's attorneys are entitled to see more government documents -- it provided the first detailed look at what Libby told investigators about his interactions with Cheney on this issue.
According to the excerpts from testimony on March 5, 2004, Libby recalled that he and Cheney discussed Wilson's article on multiple occasions each day after it appeared. Cheney, Libby said, "often will cut out from a newspaper an article using a little penknife that he has" and "look at it, think about it."
That's what Cheney did with the column, Libby said, because Cheney saw it as attacking his credibility. "He wanted to get all the facts out about what he had or hadn't done, what the facts were or were not. He was very keen about that and said it repeatedly. Let's get everything out," Libby testified.
A previous court filing by Fitzgerald revealed that Cheney had annotated his copy of the column with this question about Wilson: "Did his wife send him on a junket?" Cheney's defense lawyers said in a subsequent filing that Libby had testified he never saw those annotations until the FBI showed him a copy. In Libby's actual testimony, as released by Fitzgerald, he said, "It's possible if it was sitting on his desk that, you know, my eye went across it."
An apparently key issue to be contested at trial is precisely when these conversations took place: Did they occur before or after Libby's discussions with reporters that included Plame's name? And did Libby have reason -- as his attorneys have asserted -- to forget some of what Cheney said about Plame and her employment at the CIA?
The grand jury excerpts record Libby as saying at one point that he did not recall Cheney asking about the Plame connection "early on . . . although he may well have." Libby also said that he did not recall such a discussion with Cheney before he heard Plame's name from reporter Tim Russert -- a conversation that Russert has disputed in his own testimony.