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Cheney may use executive privilege { October 29 2005 }

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Despite urging calm for Libby, Cheney may face firestorm, too
By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | October 29, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney urged people yesterday to give his chief of staff the benefit of the doubt in facing perjury and obstruction of justice charges, but he might also have been referring to himself.

Though not indicted yesterday, Cheney is linked to the case as I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby's source of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. If the case goes to trial, Cheney may have to testify, analysts said -- a situation that could give Democrats ammunition to further portray the episode as an abuse of power by the White House.

''This augurs ill for Cheney. Obviously, Libby is never going to say that Cheney told him to go out" and leak Plame Wilson's name to reporters, but ''there is circumstantial evidence that it happened," said David Berg, a Houston defense lawyer who represented Susan McDougal in the Whitewater case.

In a statement yesterday, Cheney called Libby ''one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known," and said Libby deserves ''an opportunity to answer the charges and a full airing of the facts." Observers say Cheney, too, could be drawn into the firestorm as Libby's source.

The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, would not talk about potential witnesses in Libby's case. But analysts say Cheney could be called as a witness for or against Libby, a spectacle that would give White House critics a chance to implicate Cheney -- and, perhaps, President Bush.

''It really becomes a forum for unpacking the whole process by which they produced and manipulated the intelligence at some point -- maybe not at the trial, but certainly in the public domain," said John Podesta, a former Clinton administration official who is president of the Center for American Progress. ''We can discuss the consequences of that kind of arrogance of power."

Perhaps the most powerful vice president in history, Cheney and his staff have had unusually strong influence in the Bush White House, particularly in national security policy. Early in the administration, Cheney, a former oil man, headed an industry task force that framed the sweeping energy package Congress approved months ago. And unlike most administrations, Cheney's and Bush's staffs are ''heavily integrated," said John C. Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute.

Because Libby and Cheney were so involved in US policy, ''you'll see a lot come out" about the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, Fortier said, creating more headaches for an administration defending an increasingly unpopular war.

The Bush White House is ''particularly jealous" about keeping administration documents and decision-making from public view, Fortier said. He predicted that Cheney, who fought and won the right to keep the work of the energy task force secret, may well try to exert executive privilege if he is called to testify. But Cheney probably cannot stay completely out of Libby's legal proceedings, said William Leuchtenberg, a presidential scholar. He noted that two sitting presidents have gone to court: Thomas Jefferson had to give a statement in a Virginia conspiracy case, and the Supreme Court ordered Bill Clinton to testify in Paula Jones's sexual harassment suit against him.

Stephen Hess, a professor at George Washington University, said Libby might cut a deal to avoid a trial and keep Cheney off of the witness stand. ''This is an aide who seems to be willing to take a bullet for the cause. It would not surprise me if they didn't go to trial," Hess said. ''On the other hand, it's [Libby's] life on the line."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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