Presidential advisor Karl Rove and White House communications director Dan Bartlett have received subpoenas to testify for the defense at the trial of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, ABC News has learned from a lawyer with knowledge of the case.
The Libby defense indicated in March 2006 court papers that Karl Rove will be a "key witness" in the trial, and will testify concerning a conversation with Libby on July 10 or 11, 2003, regarding columnist Robert Novak's intent to print a story about Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA.
Trial watchers said the subpoenas make it clearer than ever that Libby's defense team will seek to put the Bush administration and its policies on trial.
"This is obviously primarily about the guilt or innocence of the defendant," former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News. "But in a larger sense, it's going to be an examination and perhaps even a trial about how this administration has conducted itself on matters of national security and on Iraq, specifically."
Libby is charged with perjury, making false statements and obstructing an investigation. His troubles began in 2003, when the name of a covert CIA operative, Plame, was leaked to a reporter. Naming a clandestine government operative is a crime.
The leak, according to the prosecution, marked an effort to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, who was critical of President Bush's claim during a State of the Union address that Iraq had been trying to acquire uranium from Niger.
Since then, the White House claim of Iraq's alleged effort to acquire nuclear materials has been widely discredited as false, and even the Bush administration no longer supports it. The perjury case centers largely on when Libby discovered Plame's name.
The latest subpoenas add two more high-profile witnesses to a trial that has already drawn in an impressive cadre of some of Washington's most prominent and politically connected figures.
Among the potential witnesses for the government's case against Libby, compiled based on statements made in court and more than 250 filings in the case, are:
Yet Libby's witness list is even more impressive, as it includes a sitting vice president:
It's been an extraordinary week in the trial.
Libby told investigators that he thought he heard Plame's name from a reporter. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald opened his case on Jan. 23 by arguing that Libby must have lied to investigators because he had been speaking of Plame before he spoke to NBC's Tim Russert.
Libby's defense has suggested Libby made an honest mistake.
Libby's lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., has made Rove a key figure in the case, saying that in order to protect Rove as a possible leaker, "Scooter Libby was to be sacrificed."
Fitzgerald has ruled out charges against Rove in the case. But in May 2006, ABC News reported the Libby defense said in open court that it would seek Rove's testimony for Libby's defense.
It was also disclosed this week that Cheney wrote a note that Libby's defense argues shows that Libby was a scapegoat.
"Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy who was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder," Cheney wrote.
It's not clear how the claim that Libby was sacrificed for Rove's benefit helps Libby in the case. But the argument embarrasses the secretive Bush administration and potentially increases sympathy for him among a jury that was heavily vetted because so many potential jurors - including one CIA agent - had at least tangential ties to the case in a capital known for its tangled relationships.
"What I think they're trying to do is contrast that he's a busy guy who obviously could be expected not to remember a variety of things," Holder said, "and beyond that to show that he was being taken advantage of by other people in the administration."
Although Rove was called for the defense, Holder said, that doesn't mean he will be cooperative.
"They might even try to have him declared a hostile witness," Holder said.
Libby's attorneys also indicated they want to know more about immunity granted reluctantly by prosecutors to another presidential aide, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.