Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Libby Jury Picked -- Includes Retired 'Wash Post' Reporter

WASHINGTON A jury that includes four critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policies was seated Monday to try former White House aide "Scooter" Libby on charges of lying about what he told reporters concerning the wife of a prominent war opponent.

The jury of nine women and three men was seated after a nearly hourlong court session that was as silent as a professional chess match. Prosecutors and defense attorneys consulted in whispers, then handed papers to the clerk to exercise their 20 unexplained strikes of potential jurors.

The only sound was the clerk reading the number of each juror eliminated and the replacement juror's number.

Six potential jurors who had criticized war policy or the Bush administration were struck, as was one woman who said she had voted for President Bush.

Although it was not announced which side struck which jurors, Libby's attorneys, Theodore Wells and William Jeffress, had tried to exclude strong opponents of Bush policies.

The critics who were seated had said they could put those views aside. Drawn from a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 9-to-1, the jury pool had included quite a few who said they could not put their opposition aside. They had been sent home earlier by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

A former aide to Bush and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis Libby is charged with five felony counts — obstructing an investigation into the leaking of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity in 2003 and lying 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.

On Tuesday, Walton will give preliminary instructions about the CIA leak case and then both sides will give opening statements. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald plans to speak for an hour; Wells estimated he'll talk for two hours.

Three women and one man were seated as alternates. Although the public knew, the jurors weren't told which ones were alternates so they would all pay full attention during the trial.

In a city where blacks outnumber whites more than 2-to-1, the jury has 10 whites and two blacks. Two of the alternates are black.

The critics chosen to serve include a woman who works for a senior citizens agency and said, "I think Bush was not candid" about why he began the war.

There is also a retired woman who worked for the Air Force, Navy and nonprofit groups and said the administration was not "forthright about the reasons for engaging in" the war.

The other two were a retired math teacher who said he would have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq — about four times the number Bush sent — and a Web architect who said he questions administration credibility at times.

The jury includes a retired Washington Post reporter who once worked for Post editor Bob Woodward and was a neighbor of NBC reporter Tim Russert, both of whom are to be witnesses in the case.

[Bloomberg News reported: Asked about possible testimony by Post editor Bob Woodward, the man said, "I would say the one thing that he drilled into all of us was, don't take anybody's word for anything until you get the facts. I'd find it shameful to overweigh anything.'']

Other jurors include a retired postal worker; a travel agent who only looks at newspapers for the sudoku puzzles; and a hotel sales agent who described herself a "master of all things pop culture, but nothing related to current events."

Two female jurors had voiced personal critiques of Cheney, a likely defense witness. The hotel sales agent said Cheney seemed like "a responsible but slightly cold man."

A woman who works for the Health and Human Service Department said, "I'm not particularly impressed with a lot of his manners of being." But neither of them criticized administration policy.

Libby is the highest-ranking member of the Republican administration to face criminal charges.

The contentious four-day jury selection, which took twice as long as the judge predicted, foreshadows a heated trial set to the backdrop of the war in Iraq.

The credibility of Cheney and other administration officials will be a key issue in the case. Cheney and Libby, who is also expected to testify, are likely to contradict other witnesses, including some reporters.

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


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