Lawyers for Lewis "Scooter" Libby are scheduled to begin their case Monday by calling a brace of high-profile journalists to give testimony they hope will clear Libby of perjury and obstruction charges.
Among those likely to be called, according to court transcripts: NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Evan Thomas of Newsweek and Jill Abramson, managing editor of The New York Times.
Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff and national security adviser, is charged with lying about identifying an undercover CIA officer to reporters in June and July 2003 to undermine her husband, an administration critic.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent the first three weeks of the trial building his case against Libby. He called 10 witnesses and played eight hours of Libby's grand jury testimony to show that Libby told reporters Valerie Plame worked at the CIA, then lied to investigators because he feared prosecution for leaking classified information.
Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, had accused Cheney's office of ignoring a report Wilson made contradicting the claim that Iraq had sought nuclear material in Africa.
No one was charged for the leak.
Theodore Wells, Libby's lead counsel, has said in court filings and statements to the court that he'll call these journalists to show there was no "plot" to unmask Plame's identity and that talk of her CIA job was widespread.
Mitchell said during an October 2003 interview on CNBC that Plame's identity was "widely known." In a 2005 interview with Don Imus, Mitchell said she "may have misspoken."
The defense may also pit journalists from the same newspapers or networks against each other. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified for the prosecution that her editor wasn't interested in a story about Plame's CIA role. The defense has subpoenaed that editor, Abramson, to rebut the claim. Abramson was the Times' Washington bureau chief until August 2003.
While the journalists seem certain to testify, it's less clear that Cheney will also take the stand.
Before the trial, Libby's defense team said they would call Cheney as a witness. If so, that would make him the first sitting vice president to be a witness in a criminal trial, said vice presidential historian Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.
Cheney, if called, could bolster two elements of Libby's defense. One is that Cheney's office was so busy that top aide Libby just forgot but didn't lie about key details of conversations about Plame. The second is that White House adviser Karl Rove, portrayed by the defense as a Libby rival, conspired to trick reporters into thinking Libby was the main source of the leak to cover Rove's role in exposing Plame.
Calling Cheney as a witness presents several problems for the defense, says Joshua Berman, a former federal prosecutor and now a white-collar defense specialist.
"What (Libby's lawyers) hope to get from him they have to weigh very sensitively against any possible backfire effect," Berman says.
That effect could include focusing on Cheney as the No. 2 official in an administration that has become increasingly unpopular because of the Iraq war. Cheney also likely would be asked questions about the flawed intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which helped lead the United States into war with Iraq.
Cheney could also face questioning about who told him that Plame worked for the CIA.
Libby told FBI investigators that Cheney told him Plame worked at the CIA in early June 2003, just before a top CIA official told Libby the same thing.
Berman, who has worked with both Fitzgerald and Wells, says that Wells sometimes waits until the last minute before deciding to call a witness. "I've heard him say, 'I often make the decision (to call a key witness) that morning," Berman said about Wells' trial tactics.
Berman, however, noted that Wells has been "thinking about it every single morning and night since the trial began."