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Three jury candidates dismissed in 'Scooter' Libby trial

Story Highlights

• Three jury candidates dismissed during questioning Tuesday
• Jury selection began in perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby
• Jurors asked about their views on President Bush, politics, Iraq war
• Libby is accused of lying about his contacts with reporters about CIA agent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal judge in the trial of ex-White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby grilled potential jurors Tuesday about their political convictions and their knowledge of possible trial participants, including possible Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal agents investigating the illegal disclosure in 2003 of former CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity.

Tuesday was the first day of jury selection. (Watch what heavyweight showdown excites political observers Video)

Of nine prospects questioned, three were excused.

Twelve are needed for trial, with four alternates.

The court session ended about 3 p.m., and the process is to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

There is a jury pool of about 60 people.

Libby is accused of lying about his knowledge of Plame's confidential status at the CIA and his contacts with journalists following allegations leveled by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Wilson said the Bush administration "twisted" a piece of intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Libby is not charged with leaking Plame's identity, which was the original focus of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation.

In an article published in The New York Times, Wilson accused Bush administration officials of leaking his wife's name in retaliation for his report. He and his wife have sued Libby and Cheney.

Libby resigned after his October 2005 indictment by a federal grand jury.

The defense contends that any incorrect testimony that Libby may have given to the FBI and a grand jury was due to a temporary memory loss. Libby's attorneys say he was preoccupied with the Iraq war and other issues.

Cheney is expected to bolster that explanation if he testifies. If Cheney takes the stand he would be the first sitting vice president to testify in a criminal trial.

Judge Reggie Walton started by reading the 60 prospective jurors a list of 38 questions, covering personal opinions of Cheney and his credibility, opinions of Bush administration policies, where they get their news, whether they know anyone who works for U.S. intelligence agencies or if a relative or close friend has been killed in Iraq.

"During this trial, you will hear testimony about some of the evidence the Bush administration considered when deciding to go to war in Iraq," one question states. "Based on what you know at this time, do you believe that the administration misled the American people to justify going to war?"

The judge brought forward for interviews with him, the defense and the prosecutor prospective jurors who acknowledged having concerns.

After the first candidate's concerns were addressed, the prosecutor complained to the judge that the questions the defense had asked ran the risk of pre-trying the case.

Of the nine people interviewed, only six prospective jurors passed the preliminary round.

Walton has said he hopes that by Wednesday a jury of 12 plus four alternates would be chosen, with Thursday set for preliminary jury instructions. Both sides have asked that opening arguments begin Monday.

Before that, the court must find 37 qualified prospects. The defense then has the option of rejecting up to 10 of them, and prosecutors can strike up to six until 12 are left.

Four additional members from the pool will serve as alternates, and each side will get two strikes until four are reached.

One woman was quickly excused from Tuesday's opening round. She had indicated on the questionnaire that she did not feel she could be impartial.

When questioned directly as to what she meant, she answered, "there's no way they could convince me" the defendant was innocent.

A second woman, a freelance photographer, was dismissed when she declared serving on the jury would cause financial hardship.

Another potential juror checked a box indicating outside knowledge of the case. When questioned, he recounted details that he said he had collected from blog sites, newspapers and television. He also said he had a less than favorable impression of Cheney.

However, he told the judge he could separate all that from what he would learn the courtroom.

The judge excused him.

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.




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