U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, on Monday morning, dismissed a juror in the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby after determining that the juror had been exposed to media coverage of the trial of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff.
After meeting with jurors and lawyers behind closed doors, the judge allowed jury deliberations — now in their fourth day — to continue with 11 jurors. He could have called on one of two alternate jurors.
The machinations surrounding the errant juror raised concerns about whether a mistrial might ultimately be declared. But that won’t happen , at least for now.
From the start of the trial, the jury has been under strict orders to avoid watching, listening to or reading news coverage about the trial and issues related to it because of concerns that contact with the news could taint the process.
The judge halted deliberations after raising concerns about information the juror learned over the weekend.
The deeper worry, according to the judge, was that the juror who had been exposed to the news reports might have shared the news with other jurors. The extent to which this might have happened was the subject of the behind-closed-doors inquiries from Walton and attorneys in the trial.
The Monday morning dust-up raises the possibility — though not the certainty — that a mistrial could still be declared after the month-long courtroom drama involving the former White House aide for lying and obstructing an investigation into the 2003 leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. Cheney and his aides have been accused of going after Plame in order to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joe, for revealing the administration’s manipulation of intelligence to make a “case” for war with Iraq.
By some calculations, a mistrial could serve the interests of Libby and the Bush administration by dragging the complex case out longer — toward a point when the president might find it convenient to pardon the man who could point a finger of blame at Bush, Cheney and others in the administration. That presumes that Libby would be convicted.
In the event of a mistrial, Libby’s lawyers would likely claim their client had been cheated of exoneration by the jury.
Whatever the spin, if a mistrial is called, it is important that the case be renewed — just as it is vital that Congress begin to take up issues that were raised during the trial. In particular, there is a need to examine the revelations about Cheney’s role in plotting the attacks on Plame and Wilson.