WASHINGTON – Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pushed back Thursday against defense attorneys who have been weeding Bush administration critics out of the jury pool in the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
"The jury will not be asked to render a verdict on the war or what they think of the war," Fitzgerald said Thursday at the onset of the third day of jury selection.
Jury selection has taken longer than expected, in part because attorneys for Libby have grilled potential jurors on their political views. Though several Bush administration critics made it into the potential jury pool, attorneys have successfully disqualified the harshest Bush opponents who said they could not be impartial.
Libby is accused of lying to investigators about what he told reporters regarding outed CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. Because Plame's husband was one of the administration's most outspoken critics, the trial is set to the backdrop of the war in Iraq and politics.
Fitzgerald and defense attorneys spent more than 15 minutes Thursday morning arguing privately with U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton over whether to dismiss one potential juror, a management consultant. She said her feelings about the administration could spill over into the trial.
"My personal feeling is the Iraq war was a tremendous, terrible mistake. It's quite a horrendous thing," she said. "Whether any one person or the administration is responsible for that is quite a complex question."
The woman was ultimately dismissed but Fitzgerald's fight to keep her was his strongest effort yet during the politically charged hearings.
The makeup of the jury pool is a critical pretrial issue. Libby plans to tell jurors that despite what prosecutors say, he didn't lie to investigators. He says he was bogged down by national security issues and simply didn't remember the conversations about Plame correctly.
If jurors come to the trial already skeptical about the credibility of Libby or Cheney, attorneys say they won't get a fair trial.
Walton hopes to have 36 qualified jurors by Thursday afternoon. Attorneys for both sides can then eliminate jurors for any reason until 12 jurors and four alternates are seated.
By Thursday morning, 24 potential jurors were in the pool. Seven administration critics were allowed into the pool Wednesday after they said they could set their political feeling aside.
Opening arguments are slated for Monday in a case expected to last four to six weeks.