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Jury selection goes slowly in Libby trial

Opening statements are postponed in the CIA leak case.

January 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The prosecutor took a more aggressive stance and jury selection slowed so much Thursday in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby that the judge postponed opening statements until Tuesday.

Libby, a former aide to President Bush and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with perjury and obstruction of the investigation into the disclosure in 2003 of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Her husband, ex-ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, claimed that the Bush administration lied about intelligence to get approval to invade Iraq.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald successfully objected to the way Libby's defense lawyers were questioning prospective jurors. The lawyers had been asking for their opinions of top Bush administration officials and whether the officials lied to push the nation into the Iraq war.

"The jury will not be asked to render a verdict on the war or what they think of the war," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald also changed his own questioning to put Libby's attorneys, Theodore V. Wells Jr. and William Jeffress, more on the defensive.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton had hoped to begin opening statements Monday. But by day's end, only 30 potential jurors had been qualified.

And questions arose in nonpublic bench conferences about two who had been deemed qualified earlier; Walton said he would rule today on whether they must be excused.

Walton needs to qualify 36 potential jurors because defense attorneys have 12 peremptory, or unexplained, strikes and prosecutors have eight.

After the defense got two jurors excused Thursday morning -- a woman who thought the Iraq war was a mistake and another woman skeptical of all politicians -- Fitzgerald struck back.

He objected that defense lawyers were telling jurors the "case is about politics and the war" instead of just about Libby's alleged lies about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame. Wells quickly agreed to say instead that the war and administration candor about it were "background issues."

From then on, Fitzgerald first began asking jurors whether they could put aside personal views on the war or the administration and rule solely on evidence introduced at trial. Questioning after Fitzgerald, the defense then was forced to ask jurors what their opinions of the war were and see if they were willing to reverse themselves on whether those views would bias them.

Before that, defense lawyers had been the first to mention the war. They then asked jurors if there was any potential their views might bias them. Fitzgerald had been forced to come back and ask if they would try to put those aside.

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