Jury selection begins in the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.
Libby is not charged with an unauthorized disclosure of a CIA agent's name, but instead with repeatedly lying under oath about his role in talking to reporters about Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson had been sent to Niger by the CIA to ascertain whether Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy uranium for an Iraqi nuclear-weapons development program — something that Wilson concluded was untrue.
When President Bush continued to make that claim as part of his justification for the war in Iraq, Wilson went public with his findings. Eight days later, his wife's CIA identify was leaked to the press.
As a result of the investigation that followed, only Libby has been charged.
Libby says he never lied — but that if he said things that were incorrect, it was because his memory was faulty. In screening potential jurors at the federal courthouse in Washington, potential panelists were asked whether they had opinions about the Bush administration that would prevent them from hearing the case impartially.
Potential jurors in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby are being asked extensive questions about their political leanings.
Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is accused of lying to a grand jury and federal investigators about conversations he had with reporters concerning an undercover CIA agent's identity. He's charged with five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The questions that potential jurors are being asked this week provide clues about the course the trial will take. For example, some of the questions focus on politics:
"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?"
"Do 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?"
Jurors' political leanings are important because parts of the trial will focus on White House operations in the months leading up to the Iraq war. That's the time period when Libby allegedly talked with reporters about Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent whose husband publicly criticized the Bush administration's justification for war. Libby's defense team wants to find jurors who may be sympathetic to the Bush administration, while prosecutors are looking for jurors who may be more critical of the White House.
Potential jurors are also being asked questions that focus on their thoughts regarding memory:
"Is there anyone who believes that everyone's memory is like a tape recorder and therefore all individuals are able to remember exactly what they said and were told in the past?"
"Is there anyone who believes that it is absolutely impossible for a person to believe very strongly that he or she has certain memories about something, even though it is determined that those memories are inaccurate?"
Faulty memory is a key part of Libby's defense strategy. His lawyers contend that Libby did not intentionally obstruct the investigation into the CIA leak. Instead, his lawyers say he was so preoccupied with his many responsibilities at the White House that he simply forgot the correct sequence of events.
An addendum to the questionnaire lists potential witnesses and names that may be mentioned during the trial. The list reads like a Who's Who of Washington politics and journalism. Some of the people, such as Cheney and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, are expected to testify at the trial. Others, such as former CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, likely will not play a personal role in the proceedings.
Jury selection is expected to last through the end of the week. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 22.