Video: Roundup: Scooter Libby trial

updated 1/22/2007 7:39:25 PM ET 2007-01-23T00:39:25

A jury, consisting of nine women and three men, was seated Monday in the perjury and obstruction trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Those jurors include an art historian, an investment banker, an attorney, a retired postal employee, a retired math teacher, and  a former reporter for the Washington Post who once had star reporter Bob Woodward as his editor and was a neighbor of NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert - both of whom are to be witnesses in the case.

(MSNBC.com is owned, in part, by NBC News.)

The jury also includes four critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policies who expressed their views during questioning. Three women and one man were seated as alternates. Although the public knew who they are, the jurors weren't told which ones were alternates, so they would all pay full attention during the trial.

The process of selecting the jury took twice as long as expected.

Libby, a former aide to President Bush and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is the highest-ranking member of the Republican administration to face criminal charges in a case surrounding the leak of a CIA agent's name.. He is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations regarding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame, who husband was a vocal critic of the administration.

Opening statements are now expected to begin Tuesday, with Judge Reggie Walton delivering detailed instructions to the jury, spelling out the charges against Libby and that the burden of proof regarding the five charges in the indictment rests on the prosecution.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald then will make opening remarks laying out his case against Libby.  Fitzgerald plans to spend about 90-minutes setting the scene for the jury.

Libby's defense attorney Ted Wells will follow Fitzgerald, using some audio and visual props to bolster his case that Libby had no reason to lie to FBI investigators and a grand jury about how he learned and what he told three reporters about former CIA employee Valerie Plame.

Depending on how long Wells takes with his opening, the jury may hear their first witness Tuesday as well.

The politics of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby
The contentious jury selection process foreshadows a heated trial set to the backdrop of the war in Iraq.

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The potential jurors are drawn from a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 9-to-1.

Prosecutors say Libby lied to investigators to spare him political embarrassment. Libby says he didn't lie but rather forgot details about his conversations because he preoccupied with national security issues.

While the painstaking selection of a jury closes, it may not be the end of disputes over how much jurors should hear about the Iraq war.

Libby's lawyers, Theodore Wells and William Jeffress, have labored to keep opponents of the Iraq war and the administration off the jury. Libby, a former aide to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is the highest-ranking member of the current Republican administration to face criminal charges.

Defense lawyers asked every juror whether the administration lied about intelligence to push the nation into war in Iraq and whether administration officials are believable, particularly Cheney. He is to be a defense witness.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald objected repeatedly during the first three days that Wells and Jeffress were portraying this as a trial about politics and the war. Fitzgerald argued that "the jury will not be asked to render a verdict on the war or what they think of the war."

Defense questions were so political that one juror even volunteered that she had voted for Bush, Fitzgerald complained to the judge.

The Bush administration factor
The prosecutor wants the trial to stick closely to the five felony counts against Libby: that Libby obstructed an investigation into the leaking of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity in 2003 and lied to the FBI and a grand jury about three conversations with reporters about her.

Plame's name and employer were disclosed in a newspaper column, attributed to two senior administration figures. The column by Robert Novak was published shortly after Plame's husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused Bush of saying Iraq was trying to buy uranium for nuclear weapons long after the administration knew the story was untrue.

Walton said during pretrial hearings that he does not want the trial wandering far from the charges. But he responded to Fitzgerald's objections last week by saying the defense has a right to know if a potential juror "has a very negative attitude to the Bush administration."

So the judge gave Wells and Jeffress considerable latitude. He even let them ask several potential jurors if they could assure the court their opposition to Bush's war policies would not subconsciously influence their deliberations.

Politics and Judge Walton interview
National Public Radio interviewed Judge Walton, who got his last three jobs from Republican presidents.  He said that when he was first appointed as a Superior Court judge by President Reagan, he was a Democrat.  He told NPR, "as a judge you don't let party affiliation have an impact," not allowing any hint of his party preferences now. He also told NPR that he is a supporter of affirmative action programs. "I am a product of affirmative action." said Walton. "If not for affirmative action, I wouldn't have gotten into law school," he said.

Politics is an important aspect of the Libby trial. Even some of the questions jury candidates are being asked focus on politics and give some clues about the course the trial will take. For example:

"Do any of you have feelings or opinions about the Bush Administration or any of its policies or actions, whether positive or negative, that might affect your ability to give a former member of the Bush Administration a fair trial?"

"Do you have any feelings or opinions about Vice President Cheney, whether positive or negative, that might affect your ability to be fair in this case or that might affect your ability to fairly judge Vice President Cheney's believability?"

Jurors' political leanings are important because parts of the trial will focus on White House operations in the months leading up to the Iraq war. That's the time period when Libby allegedly talked with reporters about Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent whose husband publicly criticized the Bush administration's justification for war. Libby's defense team wants to find jurors who may be sympathetic to the Bush administration, while prosecutors are looking for jurors who may be more critical of the White House.

More than politics at issue
Potential jurors are also being asked questions that focus on their thoughts regarding memory:

"Is there anyone who believes that everyone's memory is like a tape recorder and therefore all individuals are able to remember exactly what they said and were told in the past?"

"Is there anyone who believes that it is absolutely impossible for a person to believe very strongly that he or she has certain memories about something, even though it is determined that those memories are inaccurate?"

Faulty memory is also a key part of Libby's defense strategy. His lawyers contend that Libby did not intentionally obstruct the investigation into the CIA leak. Instead, his lawyers say he was so preoccupied with his many responsibilities at the White House that he simply forgot the correct sequence of events.

Whatever other arguments over evidence occur, those jurors will hear that Wilson claimed administration officials leaked his wife's identity to punish him and scare other war critics in the intelligence agencies into silence.

They also will hear from the defense that whatever errors Libby made in describing his conversations with reporters in 2003 resulted from innocent memory failure as he was dealing with a wide array of issues involving the war and national security.

NBC's Joel Seidman contributed to this story.

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