If Dick Cheney really does testify in the Libby trial, God would I love to be the one cross-examining him.
Just to remind yourself of who we’re dealing with here, take a few minutes to watch Cheney in action sparring with Wolf Blitzer, or better yet watch Jon Stewart’s review of the interview on The Daily Show (you’ll get the same information, but it’s a hell of a lot funnier).
You see, I know this guy — not personally, but the personality type. As a medical malpractice defense lawyer (back in my pre-café days), I cross-examined guys like this many times — expert witnesses who somehow managed to bring together in one explosive package most of the worst possible attributes a witness can have.
And God be my witness, Dick Cheney has every one of them — an arrogance that exceeds the reality of his abilities, contempt for “lesser people,” a hair-trigger temper when challenged and a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth, confident that no one else is smart enough to catch him.
Let’s just say that when witnesses like that go up against competent opposing council, it usually ends badly for them (or at least for the party calling them as a witness).
Personally, I doubt Patrick Fitzgerald has deliberately set out to spring a perjury trap on the VP; that’s more of a Kenneth Starr kind of deal. But the potential for Cheney stumbling into a perjury rap is, I think, very real. Extreme arrogance combined with a willingness to be untruthful tends to be a particularly toxic mixture in a courtroom.
But even if nothing quite so dramatic happens, which, of course, most likely it won’t, I will be very surprised if Cheney doesn’t end up making a very poor and unbelievable witness — the kind of witness the jury later tells you, “We really hated that guy.”
Of course, who that helps or hurts will depend entirely on what Libby’s legal team is hoping to accomplish in subpoenaing the vice president (assuming they’re trying to accomplish anything more than putting pressure on Bush to grant a pardon, something that seems extremely unlikely to happen in the middle of the trial, but deals could always quietly be struck to be implemented later). If they’re hoping that Cheney will sweep the jury off their feet, well, good luck to them on that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if something else is in play.
If the defense strategy really is, as advertised, to cast Libby in the role of the fall guy, setting Cheney up as the real bad guy might prove damn effective. Juries don’t like it when they think the little guy is being picked on while the big cheese is walking free. Selling Scooter Libby as a little guy would obviously take some doing, but if they could succeed, using the Dickster as a foil would make a lot of sense.
It should be an interesting few weeks in the courtroom.
Update: Larry the Red raises a good point in the comments: He questions whether Cheney would be loyal enough to Libby to allow himself to be painted as the bad guy. I agree Cheney isn’t the sort of guy to voluntarily take a bullet for anyone. On the other hand, we don’t know what Libby knows that Cheney doesn’t want out. And it’s hard for me to see what Cheney can say that will be helpful to Libby without it at the same time being embarrassing to Cheney.
The basic point of the article, in any case, remains the same. If Cheney testifies, he stands a huge risk of being made to look like a complete idiot.