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Cheney May Be Asked to Testify in Libby Case

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Vice President Dick Cheney could be called to testify at the trial of his former chief of staff. Lewis Scooter Libby is accused of making false statements, obstruction of justice, and perjury. The charges are in connection with the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent. And prosecutors said, in a court filing last night, that they have not ruled out calling Cheney as a witness.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is covering this story.

And, Ari, we said haven't ruled out. Does that mean Cheney is likely to testify?

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Well, prosecutors are leaving the door open. This is basically a dialogue between the lawyers for the defense and prosecution. And this latest bit is almost an aside. It's in a footnote from the latest court filing. And in it, the prosecutor says, Contrary to the 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.

So basically, defense lawyers said you're not calling Cheney. And in this filing, prosecutors are saying don't put words in our mouth. We can call Cheney if we want to.

INSKEEP: So when you unpack all those double, triple, quadruple negatives, it's a maybe. Why would prosecutors want Cheney to testify, if they are not opposed to the idea of having him testify?

SHAPIRO: Well, they're trying to show that there was a singular focus in 2003, in the vice president's office, on Joseph Wilson. He's Valerie Plame, the CIA agent's husband. And he was a critic of the Bush administration's justification for war with Iraq. Libby is, of course, accused of lying to the grand jury and FBI investigators, about the leaking of Plame's identity.

So prosecutors think if they can show that Cheney and Libby were totally focused on the issue of Wilson, that will undermine Libby's defense that he was so focused on other issues, that his alleged lies were actually memory lapses. Prosecutors say in these documents, that Cheney's state of mind is directly relevant to the issue of whether Libby lied.

INSKEEP: Ari, you said that this is all in a footnote in this court filing. What's in the rest of the documents?

SHAPIRO: Well, we have some excerpts from Libby's grand jury testimony that are interesting. In them, he describes conversations that he had with Cheney about the New York Times op-ed that Wilson wrote, accusing the administration of twisting Iraq intelligence. And according to the filing, Libby told the grand jury that the vice president was personally angry about the op-ed. He told Libby that he wanted to get the truth out, including all the facts about what Cheney had or hadn't done; what the facts were or were not.

Apparently, Cheney would often clip newspaper articles using a penknife that he kept. He'd stack those articles on the corner of his desk. And we actually saw one of these articles; the Joseph Wilson New York Times op-ed with Cheney's handwritten notes in the margins in the last court filing.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Now, we're talking to NPR's Ari Shapiro who covers the Justice Department. I want to ask about one other story. There were some other news last night involving ABC News and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, this story is still developing. And basically what happened is ABC News, last night reported that the FBI is investigating speaker Hastert, as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. They cited anonymous sources in that story. Well, the Justice Department quickly sent out a statement denying the story. Hastert's office called the report absolutely untrue and demanded a retraction.

But at least, so far, ABC News is standing by its story. So we'll see what happens there.

INSKEEP: Ari, thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.