Libby Trial Opens: Return Here for Updates

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By: E&P Staff

On key days in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak case — in which journalists as witnesses are expected to play a key role — E&P will feature coverage from a variety of sources, blog style, most recent items at the top.

Here is the first day’s action.


4:20 PM, from AP:

“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.

Walton also allowed defense attorneys to ask pointed follow-up questions about Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, which is the backdrop to the case.

”I think he’s been a little harsh,” one woman, a Washington housekeeper with a cousin serving in Iraq, told defense attorneys. ”No offense but I think he should let them come home because they have families.”

All jurors are routinely asked whether they have criminal records. In the Libby case, Walton has said the jurors would also undergo criminal background checks.

Special prosecutor Patrick 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 next Monday. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

4:00 PM from The Washington Post:

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, asked fewer questions. He asked one woman, a lyric soprano, how she would determine whether a person who said something wrong had lied or made an innocent mistake.

“I would have to put every thing on the table and use my intellect and what I had before me to make that delineation,” she replied. “I think it would be an extremely difficult [decision], but at a certain point, you have to make it in good faith.”

The early questioning of potential jurors made clear the challenge of seating an unbiased panel in a city where residents are overwhelmingly Democratic, live and work alongside high-ranking government officials and tend to be uncommonly attentive to news.

One woman, who said she works cleaning apartments at the Watergate, said she had heard that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lives there. Another panel member was dismissed after he told lawyers and the judge, “I don’t have the highest opinion” of the vice president. A third woman was dismissed almost immediately, when she told Walton she was “without objectivity” and could not imagine anything she heard causing her to have positive feelings about Bush.

2:30 PM ET, from “Pachacutec,” one of the bloggers they’ve let into the courtroom, and blogging at FireDogLake:

The current witness under review reads blogs and says: ?Some of them are pretty good. I stay away from the crazies.? The media room erupted in laughter. I took a seated bow….

Peremptory strikes, defense = 12, prosecution = 6….

Russert?s the guy who?s gonna sink the Scoot’s battleship.

2:00 PM ET, from “Pachacutec”:

Questioning of specific jurors is now beginning. Team Irving is asking further questions about their views on the war or the decision to go to war, if they have any problem with it or strong opinions, or just general attitudes about the Bush administration or VP Cheney. Fitzgerald says this has already been covered in the opening voir dire review, and is repetitive in individual questioning, and actually beyond the scope of direct questions about the ability to be fair. Defense is arguing people sometimes miss their checked boxes, and that this is no ordinary case and we need to probe for anti-administration biases.

Walton’s audio is really bad right now, but he’s saying he will allow some latitude. The Libby people are also asking memory questions, repeating some of what was in the initial phase of voir dire, basically, do you think people can forget stuff?

Questioning of individual jurors is proceeding, very slowly, because there are a lot of questions and probing, mostly by the defense. At this rate, jury selection will take many, many days.

12:55 PM, from The Associated Press:

“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.

Walton did not ask jurors their opinions on the Iraq war or whether they had family or friends who served in the military – questions Libby’s lawyers had hoped would be asked.

The answers will be crucial for Libby, who is hoping that a sympathetic jury can be selected from a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than nine to one.

“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?” Walton asked.

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

12:30 PM ET, from The Washington Post:

The trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of lying about the disclosure of a CIA officer’s identity opened this morning, with defense attorneys contending in new court documents that “inaccurate and inflammatory” publicity about the case could damage the ability of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff to receive a fair hearing in court.

Libby’s lawyers argued in court papers filed this morning that they wanted to press members of the jury pool on how closely they had followed news coverage and prosecutors’ statements, and “probe whether that exposure has affected their ability to impartially judge the facts in this case.”

Just before jury selection began this morning, prosecutors and defense lawyers were engaged in last-minute wrangling with the judge over which questions each side would ask a pool of 100 District residents called to federal court as potential jurors.

At 10:05 a.m., slightly more than a half-hour later than scheduled, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton opened the trial. Addressing the pool of jurors, he said that each one would be asked 38 questions in an effort to help both sides decide which individuals they wanted to include in the final group of 12 jurors and alternates.

11:30 AM ET

From The Chicago Tribune’s “The Swamp” blog:

As jury selection in the federal trial of former White House senior adviser Lewis “Scooter” Libby gets underway in Washington today, the White House is scuttling any hint of a possible presidential pardon.

“We’re not discussing anything about the case,” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman said today, but he did say this to a question about pardoning Libby: “I’m not aware of any discussions about a pardon.”

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