WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Friday set former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial date in the CIA leak case for January 2007, two months after the midterm congressional elections.
The trial for Libby, who faces perjury and obstruction of justice charges, will begin with jury selection Jan. 8, said U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton. The judge said he had hoped to start the trial in September but one of Libby's lawyers had a scheduling conflict that made that impractical.
Walton said he does not like "to have a case linger" but had no choice because Libby attorney Ted Wells will be tied up for 10 weeks on another case.
Libby, formerly chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted late last year on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how he learned CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson's identity and when he subsequently told reporters.
Wells said Libby's defense team was "very happy" with the trial date. It "will permit us the time we need to prepare Mr. Libby's defense," he told reporters outside the courthouse.
"The defense will show that Mr. Libby is totally innocent, that he has not done anything wrong," Wells continued, as Libby silently stood nearby. "And he looks forward to being totally vindicated by a jury."
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did not oppose the date during the hearing, and his team left the courthouse without commenting.
The judge also told the lawyers that he wants them to identify soon the reporters that each side wants to testify at trial to avoid delays while news organizations fight the subpoenas.
So far, Libby's lawyers have told Walton they want to seek notes and other documents from news organizations. But it was clear from the hearing that both sides expect to seek trial testimony from reporters.
Fitzgerald said both sides should know which reporters they want to subpoena by early spring.
Libby, 55, spoke only once during the hearing, when Walton asked if he understood that his lawyers had waived his rights to a speedy trial because of the case's complexity. Libby, surrounded by six lawyers at the defense table, stood and said, "Yes, sir."
When he arrived at the courthouse Friday morning, Libby stopped for coffee and made small talk with reporters as he headed to a conference room on the second floor.
CIA operative Plame's identity was published in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Africa to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports.
Walton did not hear arguments on motions that Libby's lawyers have filed over disputes they have with Fitzgerald. Instead, the judge set a series of deadlines for additional motions and scheduled future hearings, the first on Feb. 24.
In only a few filings so far, Libby's lawyers have revealed a significant part of their strategy.
A key element is their contention that Libby may have been confused when he told FBI agents and the grand jury about his conversations with reporters for NBC, Time and The New York Times. But he didn't lie, the lawyers plan to argue.
The defense attorneys maintain that Libby believed Plame's employment by the CIA was common knowledge among reporters. To prove it, they want Walton to let them obtain notes kept by other reporters — besides the three identified in Libby's indictment — so they can determine when journalists first heard about Plame and from whom.
Another key aspect of the defense strategy is to show that Libby had his mind on more pressing government business and couldn't be bothered with a plot — if one existed — to get even with Wilson by outing his wife.
The first half of Friday's hourlong hearing was public, with a second segment held behind closed doors.
In the secret session, Walton was to begin setting deadlines for evaluating what currently classified evidence Libby will be allowed to present to a jury in open court.
Libby's lawyers set the case on a dual track — one public, one secret — when they recently put the judge and prosecutors on notice that they want a jury to hear classified evidence.
Fitzgerald told the judge that he has turned over "99 percent" of the evidence he believes he is obligated to provide to the defense. Last night, he said, he gave 250 pages to the defense. An additional 800 pages were turned over Friday morning, Fitzgerald said.
But Wells said the prosecutor has "thousands and thousands and thousands" of pages of evidence that he has not provided to the defense. Wells said the defense will file its "core" motions, seeking those materials, in the coming weeks.