Friday, January 19, 2007

Libby Jury Selection To Finish on Monday

Jury selection in the perjury case of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will be completed Monday, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said yesterday, because the process of sifting through potential jurors moved slowly and could not be completed as the judge had expected.

Ten of the 16 prospective jurors questioned yesterday were excused, all but two because they said they held negative views of the Bush administration or politicians in general. Since the selection began Tuesday, Walton, the prosecutor and defense attorneys have questioned 49 D.C. residents and chosen 30 to remain in the jury pool.

That is fewer than needed for the next stage of the selection process, when each side will be allowed to eliminate people from the pool as the panel is winnowed to a final group of 12 jurors and four alternates.

Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, faces five felony counts of lying to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the 2003 disclosure by administration officials of a covert CIA operative's identity.

New Ambassador to Afghanistan Chosen

President Bush nominated William Wood to be the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, the latest in a shuffle of top diplomats in a region that the United States considers central to fighting terrorism.

Wood, currently the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, was chosen to replace Ronald Neumann in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are fighting the Taliban and hunting for al-Qaeda leaders. It was unclear why Neumann is leaving the post he has held since July 2005.

The White House had previously announced that Bush would nominate Zalmay Khalilzad, currently U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to replace John R. Bolton, who stepped down after Democrats made it clear they would block his renomination.

Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, has been picked to replace Khalilzad in Iraq.

All the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.

Government Benefit Bolsters Drug Sales

A new government benefit increased U.S. drug sales by $2.5 billion, or 1 percent, in 2006, bolstering earnings at Pfizer Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. as well as other pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Purchases under the benefit, offered through the Medicare health program for the elderly for the first time last year, accounted for one-sixth of the growth in sales, according to the research firm IMS Health Inc. UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. seller of medical coverage, reported a 9.2 percent profit margin on the drug program in the fourth quarter.

Insurers, including UnitedHealth, gained from selling drug policies to 22.6 million Americans and administering the new Medicare program, known as Part D. The program prevents Medicare from negotiating discounts. After the House of Representatives last week passed a bill requiring the government to negotiate lower prices, President Bush said that he will veto the measure if it passes in the Senate.

-- From Staff Reports and News Services

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