A mistrial in the perjury case of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was narrowly avoided Monday, when the federal judge overseeing proceedings dismissed one juror while sending the remaining eleven back to deliberations.
The jury has been deliberating since last Wednesday, but had not yet reached a verdict. The juror, according to Judge Reggie B. Walton, had seen coverage of the trial on television over the weekend. “What she had exposure to obviously disqualifies her,” the judge said, although he would not say exactly what the juror had seen, but characterized it as a “misunderstanding.”
The judge had initially feared the juror may have tainted other jurors, but after questioning from the judge, only the one was dismissed. Patrick Fitzgerald, Special Prosecutor in the obstruction of justice case stemming from the possible leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, had asked that one of the alternates in the case, who had sat through the trial, be called on. The judge refused, however, saying he didn’t want to “throw away two and a half days” of deliberations.
“They should continue with their deliberations and I will emphasize again the importance of not having contact with any outside information,” said the judge.
The case goes back to a claim made by President Bush, months before the U.S. invasion, that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium yellowcake – necessary for building nuclear weapons – from an African nation.
Former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson was sent to Niger – one of several African nations to sell yellowcake – to investigate this claim. At the end of the investigation, Wilson published an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he stated – contrary to what his final report to the White House said – that the claim was untrue.
It is alleged that the White House, angered by the public revelation, leaked the name of Ambassador Wilson’s wife – Valerie Plame. Plame, who at the time had been working a desk analyst job for the CIA, had apparently been the one to assign her husband to the trip. The two have since filed suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, saying he was responsible for any “leak.”
Mr. Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, is accused of perjury. During the investigation into the possible leak (it is illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert CIA operative, which Plame claimed she was, although others have disagreed), Libby told investigators that he had been given Plame’s identity by reporters. Reporters have denied this.
If found guilty, Libby could face over one million dollars in fines and up to 30 years in prison.