The Libby Case: Waiting for Cheney

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Anyone can be forgiven for losing track of what's going on in the perjury trial of Scooter Libby. After all, it's about who told what to whom and when. The fact that a covert CIA operative's name was leaked to the press–as it turns out, inadvertently by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage–is not even the matter at hand, although it was the reason a special counsel was appointed in the first place.

But here's what's interesting about this trial, if you're paying attention: It lifts the veil, providing a rare glimpse inside a White House under fire as it prepared to go to war in Iraq. The CIA and the State Department were feuding, there were fights inside the West Wing, and Vice President Cheney himself seemed to be the leader of a damage-control operation regarding the matter of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

We learn from this trial (and from hearing Libby's testimony to the grand jury) that Cheney was not a happy man back in July 2003. That's when Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that he had been sent by the administration to Africa to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had been there buying the ingredients for a nuclear weapon. He came back, and his answer was a strong no. He also implied that the administration had been cherry-picking its intelligence.

Cheney was furious. He never sent Wilson to Africa (as Wilson has implied), and all hell broke loose inside the White House. Cheney discovered that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA. On his desk, he kept a copy of Wilson's op-ed. On the top margin, he scrawled, "Did his wife send him on a junket?"

The rest is history. Libby now says he first learned about Plame's identity from Cheney but forgot–and earlier told a grand jury that he learned it from NBC journalist Tim Russert. The prosecution says he just concocted the story to lie and cover his trail of leaking to reporters.

Here's my question: Was Libby lying (or forgetful) because he was covering for his boss? Cheney could well take the stand within the next 10 days. If it happens, watch for the cross-examination. It should be quite a show.