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Trial Date Set For Ex-Cheney Aide

A federal judge on Friday set former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial date in the CIA leak case for January 2007, two months after the midterm congressional elections.

The trial for Libby, who faces perjury and obstruction of justice charges, will begin with jury selection Jan. 8, said U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton. Walton said he had hoped to start the trial in September but one of Libby's lawyers had a scheduling conflict that made an earlier date impractical.

Walton said he does not like "to have a case linger" but had no choice because Libby attorney Ted Wells will be tied up for 10 weeks in another case.

Libby, formerly chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, stopped for coffee and made small talk with reporters as he headed to a conference room on the second floor of the courthouse. Walton scheduled the hearing in part to determine what progress was being made in the case.

Libby, 55, was indicted late last year on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury 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 Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Africa to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports.

Walton was not expected to hear arguments on motions that Libby's lawyers have filed over disputes they have with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Instead, the judge was expected to set deadlines for additional motions and schedule future hearings.

In only a few filings so far, Libby's lawyers have revealed a significant part of their strategy.

A key element is their contention that Libby may have been confused when he told FBI agents and the grand jury about his conversations with reporters for NBC, Time and The New York Times. But he didn't lie, the lawyers plan to argue.

The defense attorneys maintain that Libby believed Plame's employment by the CIA was common knowledge among reporters. To prove it, they want Walton to let them obtain notes kept by other reporters — besides the three identified in Libby's indictment — so they can determine when journalists first heard about Plame and from whom.

Another key aspect of the defense strategy is to show that Libby had his mind on more pressing government business and couldn't be bothered with a plot — if one existed — to get even with Wilson by outing his wife.

The first part of Friday's hearing was public, with a second segment to be held behind closed doors.

In the secret session, Walton was to begin setting deadlines for evaluating what currently classified evidence Libby will be allowed to present to a jury in open court.

Libby's lawyers set the case on a dual track — one public, one secret — when they recently put the judge and prosecutors on notice that they want a jury to hear classified evidence.

The challenge for Walton will be to keep the case from veering off either or both tracks and delaying a trial while reporters resist Libby's efforts to learn about their sources and the lawyers fight over classified evidence.

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