Can Scooter Libby Get a Fair Trial?

Lewis “Scooter” Libby may well find it hard to get a fair trial, if Pachacutec‘s account of the jury selection yesterday is any indication: “no jurors were excused for cause based on any predispositions that might prejudice them against the prosecution. Just the defense.”

His post is worth reading in full but this pretty well sums it up:

The Libby team’s jury selection strategy seems rather clear: if they can find at least one, and preferably two, people who are among that 12% of the population in support of the administration’s “surge” strategy to escalate the war in the Middle East, that would be golden. Two such people, or at least one, could possibly hold out against what otherwise might be a consensus to convict, possibly even nullifying the jury, if it came to that. Generally, the demographics that hurt the administration hurt the defense team: women (especially single women), minorities, working people or union members, liberal professionals, etc. The problem for team Libby is, their best jurors live in Salt Lake City, not Washington, DC.

Frankly, the DC jury pool isn’t a dream for Republicans at any time. Let alone the Bush administration. Much less when an unpopular, polarizing war is the backdrop of the case. One wonders how much Libby’s specific actions will be on trial and how much it will be a referendum on the run-up to the war.

Tom Maguire notes, too, that the press summaries continue to get the legal issues in the trial wrong. Granting that the jurors will be empaneled for four to six weeks and be given thorough charging by the judge, the amount of pre-conditioning they have received over the past three years may well factor into their decision. I’m not sure how it wouldn’t.

Scott Shane writes an interesting profile of Libby for the NYT which points to the oddity of him being an indicted felon. It paints him as a complex figure who is a bundle of contradictions: “the White House policy enforcer who also wrote a literary novel; a buttoned-down Washington lawyer who likes knocking back tequila shots in cowboy bars and hurtling down mountains on skis and bikes; and a 56-year-old intellectual known to all by his childhood nickname, Scooter.”

He is, “By all accounts a first-rate legal mind and a hypercautious aide whose discretion frustrated reporters, he is charged with repeatedly lying to a grand jury and to the F.B.I. about his leaks to the news media in the battle over Iraq war intelligence.”

Perhaps most telling, he was fascinated, if not obsessed, with biological warfare and terrorism long before the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, even some others in the administration “wondered whether his focus on the threat had became too single-minded. Mr. Libby and his boss repeatedly pushed for widespread immunization against smallpox, disturbing others in the administration who worried about fatal reactions that some people might have.”

The interesting thing about the piece is that it humanizes Libby [UPDATE: Jeralyn Merritt agrees.], who has been portrayed as a combination of the worst qualities of Karl Rove and Dr. Strangelove up to now. It turns out, he’s a decent guy who is married to a Democrat and seems pretty normal, aside from a high IQ and fascination with public policy.

Maybe the jurors will read it and at least begin with something other than the preconception that Libby is the embodiment of all that is wrong in the world. Yes, he worked for the evil BushCo. He still deserves the legal presumption of innocence.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. madmatt says:

    He should get as fair a trial as he wants to give joseph padilla…they are both american citizens accused of a crime…when does libby go to the brig and have his lawyer taken away?

  2. Triumph says:

    Of course Libby won’t get a fair trial, which is why the signs are pointing to the likelihood that he is going to try and frame Cheney.

    The law firm that Libby chose to represent him, for instance, is one that is also representing terrorists in US custody. That Libby would employ people who are making money assisting the enemy suggests that he has turned against the administration.

  3. legion says:

    Despite what the spinmeisters will say, being found guilty is not de facto evidence of an unfair trial.

    Paging Tom DeLay…

  4. James Joyner says:

    Despite what the spinmeisters will say, being found guilty is not de facto evidence of an unfair trial.

    Certainly true. I do worry, though, whether a prominent Bush official can get a fair hearing from a DC jury pool, let alone in a case with so much baggage.

  5. madmatt says:

    So you agree that the republicans have never done anything for the citizens of the capital, otherwise they could get a fair trial….why is that?