Friday, February 03, 2006

Judge Sets Trial for Libby in CIA Leak

Oh, yeah , right!

The Associated Press
Friday, February 3, 2006; 6:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- The perjury trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff won't begin until January 2007, after the midterm congressional elections, in timing that Democrats consider favorable to Republicans.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Friday set Jan. 8 for jury selection in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top White House aide charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury in the CIA leak inquiry.

Walton, appointed to the court by President Bush, said he had wanted to start the trial in September but agreed to push the date back when one of Libby's lawyers had a scheduling conflict.

Democrats had hoped Libby's trial would be held before the November elections to help bolster their attacks on Republican congressional candidates over the CIA leak investigation, the bribery scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Bush's domestic spying program.

"The Republicans dodged a bullet," said Democratic strategist Dane Strother. "It's a whole menu of corruption ... and it's a shame we have to wait to have Scooter Libby for dessert."

Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said putting Libby on trial during the fall campaigns could have hurt Republican candidates.

"There's something stronger about testimony under oath in public" rather than information that trickles out in the run-up to a trial, Franklin said.

Libby, 55, was indicted late last year on charges that he lied about how he learned CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity and when he subsequently told reporters.

Plame's identity was published in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports.

Ted Wells, one of Libby's lawyers, said the defense team was "very happy" with the January 2007 trial date. "The defense will show that Mr. Libby is totally innocent, that he has not done anything wrong," Wells said outside the courthouse.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did not oppose the date during the hearing, and his team left the courthouse without commenting.

Lawyers for both sides made clear Friday that a significant part of their cases will rely on testimony from reporters.

Walton told the lawyers that he wants them to identify soon the reporters that each side wants to testify at trial to give news organizations time to fight the subpoenas.

Fitzgerald said both sides should know which reporters they want to subpoena by early spring.

Fitzgerald told Walton that he has finished turning over all of the evidence he believes he is obligated to give to the defense. Wells disagreed, saying "thousands and thousands and thousands" of pages of evidence have been withheld by the special prosecutor.

One of the most pressing problems for prosecutors and government agents is deciphering hundreds of pages of Libby's handwritten notes. Wells said Libby has agreed to help agents make sense of his jottings so they can determine whether the notes contain classified information and, if not, turn them over to the defense team.

© 2006 The Associated Press


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