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Former Top Cheney Aide Goes On Trial Next Week

Opening arguments are anticipated next week in Washington in the criminal trial of Lewis Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is charged with misleading a grand jury and FBI agents in the course of an investigation about disclosure of a former covert CIA officer's identity. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a preview of the trial.

At one time, Lewis Libby was one of the most influential men in Washington. Libby advised President Bush and served as chief of staff for Vice President Cheney.

But prosecutors say Libby lied to and misled investigators about his conversations with journalists about Valerie Plame, a former covert CIA officer whose identity was revealed in a Washington newspaper column.

Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq to justify the U.S-led invasion in 2003.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald alleges that Libby was part of a White House effort to retaliate against former Ambassador Wilson by leaking his wife's covert CIA status to reporters. Libby denies the allegations and says he was too busy to remember who initially told him about Valerie Plame's CIA connection.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University. "The government is going to have to prove that Libby knew that he was leaving out critical facts when he spoke before the grand jury and with investigators,” said Turley. “Libby's argument is simple: He simply forgot, that his memory is not that good. So it becomes a test of credibility who the jury will believe. Libby will almost certainly have to take the [witness] stand. In a case like this, if you do not take the stand, the jury tends to resolve doubts against you."

Among those expected to testify during the trial are several well-known Washington journalists who regularly used Libby and other high ranking government officials as sources.

In addition, Vice President Cheney is expected to testify for Libby's defense, marking the first time a sitting vice president will testify in a criminal trial.

Mr. Cheney praised Libby in a recent television interview. "He is one of the most honest men I have ever met."

Law professor Jonathan Turley says the Libby trial will also serve as a reminder of how the United States went to war in Iraq. "Ultimately, the trial really does not turn on who leaked what. It really turns on what Libby did in response to the scandal. But it is going to remind people about the overselling of the Iraq war. It is going to remind people that what they were told originally was not true."

Former State Department official Richard Armitage has acknowledged he was the original source of the leak in the Plame case, but so far prosecutor Fitzgerald has not brought any further charges in connection with the leaking of her name to journalists.

The Libby trial is expected to last several weeks.