Jury selection began this morning in the perjury trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Libby is the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Vice President is expected to be called as a witness, the first time a sitting Vice President has ever appeared as a witness in a criminal trial. Other current and former administration officials are also expected to testify, as are such well-known journalists as Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, Tim Russert, and Robert Novak.
Because of the stature of the witnesses and because of the underlying subject matter, which deals with the reasons for the Iraq war, the trial is expected to attract a great deal of attention. Los Angeles Times writer Richard B. Schmitt writes that “the trial is likely to provide a glimpse into how the White House responded to critics of its Iraq war policies… the case should provide a rare display of political theater… The politically charged case against Libby may be the closest thing that critics of the Bush administration ever get to a public trial dealing with the justifications for the Iraq war.”
The case has its roots in the early days of the Iraq war. On July 6, 2003, Joseph Wilson, a retired foreign service officer and ambassador, published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” In his op-ed, Wilson wrote that he had gone to Africa in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake, a substance used to make nuclear weapons, from Niger. Wilson wrote that he found no evidence this had ever happened, and he accused the Bush Administration of manipulating intelligence about Saddam’s weapon programs in order to justify invading Iraq.
A week later, newspaper columnist Robert Novak revealed, in his July 14, 2003 column, that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction. Novak claimed that “two senior administration officials” had told him that it was Wilson’s wife who suggested that Wilson be sent to Africa.
The CIA asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether revealing Plame’s secret identity to reporters was a “possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.” Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to lead the investigation.
Libby is accused of lying to the grand jury during the course of Fitzgerald’s investigation. He has been charged with five felony counts: two counts of perjury, two of making false statements to investigators, and one of obstruction of justice. However, he has not been charged with making the leak itself.
This morning, the judge asked potential jurors questions such as whether they had any “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?” and “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?”
The trial is expected to last for four to six weeks.
Libby Trial Opens, by E&P Staff, Editor & Publisher, Jan. 16, 2007
Trial Begins in CIA Leak Case, by Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2007
The Best Chance at the Truth, by Dan Froomkin, Special to washingtonpost.com, Jan. 16, 2007
Political theater awaited at Libby trial, by Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Tims, Jan. 16, 2007
Joseph C. Wilson, Wikipedia
Lewis Libby, Wikipedia
Plame affair, Wikipedia
What I Didn’t Find in Africa, by Joseph C. Wilson 4th, New York Times, July 6, 2003