'Scooter' Libby Trial Could Be a High-Profile Bloodletting

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 16, 2007 — -- Jury selection begins today in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the leaking of the identity of a former CIA operative.

Libby is on trial for allegedly lying to a grand jury about the source of a leak that outed former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame's identity was leaked to the media after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

Libby has been called a master of discretion, and the trial promises to be a high-profile bloodletting. It will pit senior White House officials against senior vice presidential staffers as well as vice presidential aides against prominent journalists.

Among those on the star-studded witness list are former White House press secretary Ari Fleisher and NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert.

Perhaps potentially more damaging for the White House is that the trial shines a spotlight on some of the questionable tactics used to justify the war in Iraq, just as President Bush tries to gain some traction on the issue.

"I can imagine [White House press secretary] Tony Snow behind closed doors saying, 'Oh my God, of all the things we have to face is a trial when we are facing all of this stuff in Iraq. This couldn't have happened at a worse time,'" said Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton.

Federal prosecutors are trying to show that Libby lied to investigators about conversations he had with reporters regarding Plame. Libby has denied lying and says he has a faulty memory.

Libby is not in trouble for the original crime -- outing Plame -- but rather the alleged cover-up.

In his book "Hubris," reporter Michael Isikoff revealed that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage originally leaked Plame's identity. Armitage says the leak was inadvertent, and he is not being prosecuted

Prosecutors hope to show that the vice president and his staff had an organized campaign to leak negative stories about Plame and her husband.

Wilson had traveled to Africa for the CIA to check on reports that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction. When he returned, Wilson publicly discredited those reports, angering the vice president.

So far, all Cheney has said is that he stands by his man.

"He's one of the most honest men I've ever met," Cheney said recently on Fox News.

Whatever the outcome, Libby's trial is an unwelcome distraction for the administration at a critical juncture.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events