Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jury selection ends for day in Libby perjury trial

Potential jurors dismissed after offering opinions of Bush administration

WASHINGTON - Nine potential jurors were interviewed - and three of them dismissed after being asked their opinions of the Bush Administration - in the first day of the perjury and obstruction trial against former White House aide "Scooter" Libby.

I. Lewis Libby, who served as an adviser to President Bush and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding outed CIA officer Valerie Plame. Her identity was leaked to reporters in 2003 after her husband criticized the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

"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?" U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton asked a panel of about 60 potential jurors.

Juror responsesOf the nine potential jurors interviewed, six were asked to return Wednesday and three were dismissed.

Of the those three, one woman was let go after being asked about her views of the Bush administration. She answered, "I am completely without objectivity. Nothing they can say or do would make me think anything positive about them."

A male financial analyst was also dismissed after he told the defense he would not be able to put Vice President Dick Cheney on the same footing as other witnesses. "I don't have the highest opinion of him, the potential juror said, “He has done a lot for the country, but I don't think it would process what I think of him."

When ask if he would be able to separate in his mind the negative feelings he has for Cheney, the man replied, “In some subjective way maybe. I don't know about Mr. Libby, as I know about Mr. Cheney."

When asked about the Bush administration use of prewar intelligence, he answered, "I don't think they intentionally tried to mislead. The intel they used was the most convenient for their cause. Freeing Iraq from tyranny was not the first thing. Weapons of mass destruction sold the American public. It was a scary thought."

A third juror, a female, was dismissed because she is a freelance photographer and could not afford to spend six weeks at trial. The judge said he will have her called again for a shorter case.

NBC News: How the CIA leak case began

Questioning the jurors

All the prospective jurors were asked 38 questions by the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, in an effort to narrow the pool. The questions ranged from opinions about Bush administration officials - like Vice President Dick Cheney, who is expected to testify at the trial - to their opinions of the news media.

Cheney is expected to be a key defense witness. Presidential historians believe it would be the first time a sitting vice president testified in a criminal case.

The judge asked the pool of jurors if they believed the news media and felt that they are credible. But the judge did not specially ask jurors about the Iraq war. Questions about the war and pre-war intelligence were pointedly asked by Libby's defense attorneys.

The judge also asked the jury pool if they would have any difficulty fairly judging the believability of former or present members of the Bush administration.

Walton asked, "Do any of 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?"

After the group was asked the 38 questions, each juror was then scheduled to take the stand for follow-up questions from defense attorneys, prosecutors and the judge.

William Jeffress, one of Libby's attorneys, asked a juror if the vice president misled the nation of pre-war intelligence leading up to the war. The juror responded that she was not sure if that was the case.

In the process known as voire dire, lawyers and the judge posed questions to potential jurors.

Among other jurors' responses:

A woman, a former journalism student, who said, without prompting, that she voted for President George W. Bush. She also replied that she thought the administration was, “I think, as honest as they could be” about reasons for the war.

Another woman, a former opera singer and mother of three sons said, “I think he (Bush) genuinely felt he was doing the right thing. Asked if she felt others mislead him or gave bad information, she replied, “Yes” and then further stated, “There seems to be a bit of a credibility gap” that she is “not real comfortable with it.” referring to the war, but she indicated she felt she could judge Libby fairly.

A third woman who does work in the Watergate apartment building and spoke about knowing that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lives there “on the 5th floor.” When asked about the war, said she has a female cousin serving in Iraq. When asked about her personal feelings about war in Iraq, she said, “I think Bush should let them come home. I think he's been a little harsh. No offense,” adding, “I think he should let them come home and their loved ones would love to see them.” She went on to say, “Bush knows this. He don't let the troops come home and just rest for a while. He wants the war and I think he (Bush) should just relax for a while and just see what happens.” Asked about the vice president as a likely witness, she replied, “Cheney is with Bush sometimes, he agree with Bush.” This potential juror recognized Libby, she said from TV, saying “Yep, that's him.”

There was also extensive questioning about issues relating to the presumption of innocence.

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