Editor's Note: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is presenting a case to prove that former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby committed perjury and obstruction of justice. But Libby's old boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, lurks in the background as a de facto unindicted co-conspirator in a White House scheme that involved disclosing the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

In this guest essay, political analyst Brent Budowsky -- who helped Sen. Lloyd Bentsen write the law prohibiting the willful disclosure of covert CIA officers -- looks at how the Libby trial has morphed into the shadow trial of Vice President Cheney:

For the judge and jury, it is the Libby trial. For America and American politics, it is the Dick Cheney trial and the stakes are far higher than reported in the media.

What has emerged in evidence so far, is not surprising, but it is astonishing. Vice-President Cheney was so deeply involved and obsessed with discrediting Joe Wilson that the impact and implications are enormous and underestimated.

The Vice President was choreographer of the attack on Wilson. He acted as though he was the deputy White House political director and the deputy White House press secretary. He was organizing meetings, drafting talking points and assigning which staff would talk to which reporter.

This is not what Vice Presidents do. This is more than an attack on his enemy Wilson. Most of us who have had high government positions have faced these situations, and launching a counter-attack could have been done far more discreetly and professionally.

Plus: the naming of the Plame name, at the very least, created harm to national security and was an unpatriotic act. The minute the Vice President, Libby and Rove knew Valerie Plame worked at the CIA in a bureau that insiders would know immediately was highly sensitive that without any doubt triggered red lights, immediately.

When we were writing the original indentities protection law, not one of us could have ever imagined that identity disclosers would be high officials in the U.S. government. The law was aimed at people very hostile to the U.S. who were acting in a manner that helped the KGB.

It was unthinkable to all of us that anyone involved in these disclosures, felonious or not, would be high in the U.S. government. Anyone who goes on television and says otherwise is a liar.

Why?

My theory, with substantial evidence to back it up, is that the danger of Joe Wilson was not the damage that Wilson's view did to the Administration policy. It was the danger that Wilson's work would unravel a long-term, well-planned, highly deceptive campaign that preceded Wilson's involvement to deceive the country to drive us to war.

Prediction: major plea bargaining either has begun, or will begin, before the verdict and watch out if Libby sings in a plea deal.

Prediction: the original defense argument that Libby was a fall guy for others will only anger and inflame the judge and jury. It is no defense to say that others might have committed similar or related crimes and that is the impression this argument created.

Watch this: the sequence of events that could be explosive includes a) the original Cheney deposition to Fitzgerald, then b) testimony on the record of extensive and absurd involvement by the Vice President to the micro-level on the attack against Wilson, leading to c) Cheney's testimony in the trial if it happens.

The prosecutor and jury will compare what Cheney said in the deposition, what facts emerged in the trial and Cheney's testimony at trial. Do not be surprised if the word pardon appears in the press, though the reaction would be as strong as the Saturday Night Massacre in the Nixon years.

The surprise: what will shock people will be when the Senate Intelligence Committee releases its report on pre-war intelligence, which was covered up by the committee's Republican leaders before the elections.

The Senate report will, I predict, show major deceptions that well preceded the events in the Wilson case. This will put the whole case in context. It will turn the spotlight on the misrepresentations prior to Wilson, that will explain the obsessive attack of Cheney and Libby against Wilson.

Fasten your seat belts.

Nobody is out of the woods yet, and these woods are dark and deep.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

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