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Libby's defense will call Cheney to testify

No sitting vice president has testified in a criminal case. No sitting vice president has testified in a criminal case.

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney will be called to testify at the perjury and obstruction trial of his former chief of staff, in what would be a historic appearance by a sitting vice president in a criminal prosecution, lawyers said yesterday.

The decision by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's lawyers to call Cheney as a witness in the federal court trial scheduled to begin next month ends the speculation about the role senior White House officials would play.

The move also sets the stage for a dramatic appearance that could offer new insight into Cheney's relationship with his top aide, and for a cross-examination by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald that could lay bare how the Bush administration responded to its critics.

Libby resigned after being indicted in October 2005 on charges that he lied to a grand jury about his conversations with reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. White House critics have charged that the leak was part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine her husband, former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had accused the administration in a newspaper column of misleading the public on the case for war in Iraq.

Libby has denied the charges and has said that any misstatements were inadvertent.

Libby's lawyers hope that Cheney, as his former boss, will be able to buttress that claim by citing their close working relationship.

The lawyers did not say whether they expected Cheney would appear in court or give his testimony through a deposition, although their statements indicated that they believe the vice president would appear in person and voluntarily without a subpoena.

"We don't believe he is going to resist," Bill Jeffress, a lawyer, said.

Lea Anne McBride, the vice president's press secretary, said Cheney would testify, if called.

The decision to call Cheney was disclosed at a hearing yesterday in federal court as US District Judge Reggie B. Walton worked through proposed instructions for screening potential jurors in the case, which is expected to go to trial on Jan. 16.

Fitzgerald, who had once indicated he might subpoena Cheney, told Walton that he did not intend to call the vice president after all.

"We're calling the vice president," Theodore V. Wells Jr. responded, without elaboration.

That apparently would be a historic event.

In 1988, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush testified under oath to investigators in the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages probe, but his testimony was never used in court.

By contrast, a number of presidents have participated in trials over the years, often by videotape.

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