From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Lauren Appelbaum, and Carrie Dann
It was a story that once captivated Washington, that led to the federal investigation of whether officials in the Bush Administration illegally disclosed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and that even seemed certain to ensnare President Bush's top political aide Karl Rove (but never did). Yet what's now left of that CIA leak story -- the perjury charges against Cheney former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- nears its conclusion today with the jury selection for Libby's trial. Libby is accused of lying to a grand jury and investigators about how he learned of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. Jury selection is supposed to take two or three days, and the entire trial will last up to six weeks.
Politically, the trial will likely thrust back into the news the Bush Administration's decision to go war against in Iraq -- at the very time that Washington and the country debate Bush's plan to send more troops there. Speaking of, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that nearly six in 10 Americans are opposed to the troop increase.
Over on Capitol Hill, NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Senate Democrats this week are expected to introduce their highly anticipated Iraq resolution condemning President Bush's plan. The non-binding resolution would call on senators to vote up or down on whether they support the president's proposal. It wouldn't include language on cutting off or restraining troop funding, nor it would it suggest capping the number of troops in Iraq. Yet because the Senate floor is bogged down in an ethics and lobbying reform bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to finish this week, it's very likely the debate and vote on the resolution won't begin until next week at the earliest -- the same week of Bush's State of the Union address.
After returning from her four-day to Iraq and Afghanistan, Sen. Hillary Clinton -- along with travel companions Sen. Evan Bayh (D) and Rep. John McHugh (R) -- holds a press conference to brief reporters about the trip. There's other news regarding Iraq: More than 50 active duty officers and soldiers will hold a press conference this morning on Capitol Hill calling for an end to the war.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R) of Colorado announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year, a decision that could make it more difficult for Republicans to reclaim the majority of the Senate in 2008 (assuming Tim Johnson's health continues to improve). Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 advantage in the chamber, yet Republicans have 21 seats up for re-election next year while Democrats have just 12. What's significant about Allard's announcement is that it gives Democrats a clear pickup opportunity in a cycle that -- as of now -- looks to feature few such chances. "When I look at the map, I see low number of opportunities for both sides," Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report tells First Read.
Duffy says that besides Colorado, Democratic opportunities exist in Minnesota (Norm Coleman's seat) and possibly Maine (Susan Collins). For Republicans, it's Louisiana (Mary Landrieu). "And that's about it."
Finally, as we mentioned yesterday, a spokesman to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) has told First Read that an announcement he will form a presidential exploratory committee could come as early as this week. Speaking yesterday at an MLK Day event in Harvey, IL, Obama had some fun at the expense of the photographers popping flashbulbs during his remarks. He said, "I just want to tell all the reporters here, I love ya, but I'm not making news today." In an on-camera stakeout after the event, Obama confirmed that "we will have an announcement very soon," but said that he was trying to turn the spotlight away from his oh-eight plans to avoid appearing to make "false parallels" between himself and Dr. King.