WASHINGTON - A federal judge empaneled a jury yesterday in the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, seating a largely apolitical, educated group of District of Columbia residents to decide whether Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff lied to investigators about his role in divulging the identity of a covert CIA officer.
The nine women and three men selected for the jury - as well as four alternates - are scheduled to hear special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and one of Libby's attorneys, Theodore Wells, lay out opposing portrayals of the case in opening statements today. Over the next four to six weeks, testimony in the case will expose the inner workings of the Bush White House shortly after the Iraq war began and confidential conversations between well-known journalists and their sources in the administration.
Libby faces five felony charges that he lied to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson's name by aides to President Bush.
In a city where most residents are black, 90 percent are Democrats, and the local culture is steeped in politics, the jury is not completely representative. Ten of the 12 jurors - and two of the alternates - are white. Most said during questioning that they had no political opinions about the administration's handling of Iraq or did not follow the news.
"I am a master of all things pop culture, but nothing about current events," said a woman who books conventions for hotels. Another juror, an art historian with a doctorate, said she glanced at newspapers perhaps twice a week and never watched television.
The large proportion of jurors without opinions of the president or the war is a result of the defense's strategy. Libby's attorneys told potential jurors that Cheney and other senior aides to Bush probably would testify and asked careful questions to determine how jurors would regard the credibility of those witnesses.
By yesterday morning, when the two sides had narrowed an initial pool of 60 potential jurors to 37, a dozen in that group had expressed at least mild disagreement with the administration. Virtually all of them were excluded from the 16 who were seated.
The jury includes a retired math teacher who said he did not always agree with Bush's Iraq policy and was "beginning to have less faith in him" as the war continued. But he emphasized his objectivity and said he did "not make any snap judgments."
Also on the panel is a former Washington Post reporter who once worked for now-assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, a defense witness, and until recently was a neighbor of NBC's Tim Russert, a prosecution witness.