I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, will go on trial on Tuesday, nearly three years after a C.I.A. operative’s name appeared in a newspaper column, setting off a major investigation of who leaked the name and why.
But neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with disclosing the name, which might have violated a federal law protecting the identities of Central Intelligence Agency officers. Instead, he faces five felony counts that he lied to a grand jury and the F.B.I. agents investigating the leak.
The situation of Mr. Libby, who once worked at the highest reaches of government power in Washington and now faces the possibility of a long jail sentence, is a vivid example of what has become a contemporary capital cliché: “It’s not the crime but the cover-up” that often leads to legal problems for officials in high-profile investigations. The perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Mr. Libby stem not from the leak but from his behavior in the leak investigation.
The trial, expected to last at least a month, may serve as a stage for such intriguing issues as how the administration dealt with critics before going to war in Iraq, the changed relationship between journalists and senior government officials, and the always vexing question about the wisdom of using an independent prosecutor to investigate crimes in an administration.