Vice President Dick Cheney should get used to testifying under oath.
It is expected that he will start talking soon, as part of a self-serving effort to defend a former aide. But once the vice president is done giving that testimony, how hard would it be for him to head over to Capitol Hill and respond to all the questions that members of Congress have been preparing to ask?
It was revealed Tuesday that Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff, I. Scooter Libby.
Libby stands accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in an upcoming trial involving issues that arose from alleged efforts by the Vice President's office to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, former CIA operative Valarie Plame, for revealing that the Bush-Cheney administration had manipulated intelligence to make the "case" for invading and occupying Iraq.
Cheney, who resisted testifying before the 9/11 Commission until the bitter end, is reportedly willing to take the stand in Libby's defense. William Jeffress, one of Libby's attorneys, says of the vice president: "We don't expect him to resist."
Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, seemed to confirm that sentiment when she told reporters that, "We've cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness to the parties involved."
Since schedules and notes — some in the vice president's own handwriting — confirm that Cheney was involved in conversations about using his office to discredit Wilson, his willingness to testify in the Libby case becomes particularly significant.
Of course, the vice president will make it his purpose to protect his former chief of staff, the loyal retainer who has been described as "Cheney's Cheney." But his openness to testifying under oath about this matter would seem to open the door for him to testify before Congress regarding the matter.
Gerald Ford, while serving as president, testified before a Congressional committee about his 1974 pardon of his scandal-plagued predecessor, Richard Nixon. So there is a clear precedent. And members of the House have already requested that Cheney come clean.
A little more than a year ago, three key members of the House — Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the incoming chair of the Judiciary Committee; California Democrat Henry Waxman, the incoming chair of the Government Reform Committee; and New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey, one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began — sent a letter to the Vice President's office in which they asked the Cheney to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement, and your personal involvement, in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."
At the time the letter was sent, Hinchey said, "We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution."
The congressman explained that, "The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances. This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives."
Cheney showed little regard for Congress when Republicans were in charge of the House and Senate. And no one expects him to display any more respect for the system of checks and balances now that Democrats are in control.
But if the vice president is willing to testify in Libby's trial, then surely Congress has not just the right but the Constitutional duty to suggest that Cheney must also take questions from the Congress.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from The Nation