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Politics out front as Libby jury selection begins

Potential jurors in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby likely will be asked opinions of the Bush White House, political scandals and the Iraq war on Tuesday, foreshadowing what's likely to be a long and partisan trial.
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, walks to the U.S. District Court in Washington in this November 2005 file photo. J. Scott Applewhite / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Potential jurors in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby likely will be asked their opinions of the Bush administration, political scandals and the Iraq war Tuesday, foreshadowing the political tenor of a lengthy trial.

Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding outed CIA officer Valerie Plame. Plame’s identity was leaked to reporters in 2003 after her husband criticized the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The leak touched off a political firestorm and an FBI investigation that Libby is accused of obstructing.

Attorneys for both sides recognize the politics behind the case and have proposed questions for jurors about their views on government, politics and the media.

The answers will be critical for Libby, a Republican who served as an adviser to President Bush and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. The jury is being drawn from a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than nine to one.

“What is your political party preference? Democrat, Republican, Independent or other?” defense attorneys wrote on their list of proposed jury questions.

“Please describe any feelings you have about Vice President Cheney,” they also asked.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has not released his final list of questions but has indicated that such political questions are needed to select a fair jury.

Walton will put those questions to a group of about 60 potential jurors Tuesday. Each juror will then take the stand for follow-up questions from defense attorneys, prosecutors and the judge.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s proposed list includes questions about what newspapers and magazines jurors read and where they get their news. Fitzgerald also wants to know whether their opinion of Libby’s former job would make it hard for them to be fair.

The defense list of questions
Defense attorneys are even more pointed in their proposed questions. Among those on their list:

  • “Based on what you know at this time, do you believe that the Administration misled the American people to justify going to war?”
  • “Have you been following any of the recent political scandals involving Jack Abramoff, William Jefferson, Tom DeLay, Cynthia McKinney or Mark Foley?”
  • Do you have particularly strong feelings about the war in Iraq?
  • Based on what you know at this time, do you believe that the administration misled the American people to justify going to war?

All jurors are routinely asked whether they have criminal records. In the Libby case, Walton has said the jurors will also undergo criminal background checks. Fitzgerald requested the background checks because, during his prosecution of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, two jurors were replaced because they had police records. Defense attorneys are using that to challenge Ryan’s conviction, and Fitzgerald doesn’t want to face the same problem in the Libby case.

Walton expects jury selection to take two to three days and has scheduled opening arguments to begin Monday. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

A glimpse of the inside
The trial should give the public glimpses of how Bush administration insiders responded to a high-level critic — former Ambassador Joseph Wilson — who claimed the president and his closest advisers distorted intelligence and lies to push the nation into war with Iraq.

The case won’t assess blame for the leak itself, however. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who has acknowledged being the original leaker, has not been charged.

Libby plans to be his own star witness. He says he didn’t lie to investigators. During the Plame scandal and the FBI investigation, he says he was dealing with terrorist threats, the war in Iraq and emerging nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. He says those overshadowed the Plame issue and clouded his memory about how and when he learned Plame’s identity.