The perjury trial of former White House deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver opened yesterday amid renewed acrimony between lawyers and secrecy over the jury selection.
Lawyers for the longtime confidant to the president renewed their bitter attacks on independent counsel Whitney North Seymour Jr., accusing him of "attempting to reap the benefits of smearing" their client by seeking to introduce evidence that Deaver may have violated ethics law provisions even though he is not charged with such violations in the five-count indictment.
But neither that charge, made in a memorandum by Deaver's defense team, nor much of yesterday's jury selection occurred in the courtroom.
Even though U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson announced to the jury panel he could not ensure them as much privacy as he promised, he nonetheless began individual questioning of prospective jurors in a jury room, away from courtroom No. 2, where Deaver is to be tried. At day's end he had interrogated 15 prospective jurors about their answers to a questionnaire, but it was not clear how many might be seated for a trial that he said would last three to five weeks.
The move to conduct the jury selections in secret brought protests from at least two news organizations, The Washington Post and CBS News. Lawyers for both organizations as well as other news groups were expected to appear in court this morning to formally challenge the jury selection process.
Late yesterday after the protest by the news organizations' lawyers, the court made public the 12-page questionnaire given to the prospective jurors. Among the questions the jurors were asked were three dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction.
Deaver has said in a sealed court pleading that he may plead that his judgment during the time of the alleged offense was impaired by alcoholism and abuse of prescription drugs.
The jurors were asked if they had any "personal opinion" about alcoholism and whether any relatives or friends were addicted to drugs.
They were also asked whether they had any opinions about the Reagan administration "in general" or had any friends who worked in public relations or lobbying, the field in which Deaver now works.
Deaver is accused of lying to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and a federal grand jury about contacts with several top Reagan administration officials after he left the White House and established his lobbying firm.
Seymour, in an unusual filing last week, charged that Deaver lied in a frantic effort to save his company and to avoid being embarrassed as an ineffectual lobbyist who did little for his clients.
Yesterday, in a 15-page memorandum, Deavers' lawyers fired back at those charges. Randall J. Turk, one of Deaver's lawyers, accused Seymour of attempting to portray Deaver as "an 'access peddler' rather than a 'strategic planner.'
"Such an attempt to turn the trial into a referendum on whether Mr. Deaver was an 'access peddler' or a 'strategic planner' would be highly improper," Turk said. He noted that Seymour, appointed by a court to investigate Deaver's post-White House dealings, was initially given a mandate to investigate Deaver for ethics law violations but had "failed to obtain" an indictment on those charges.
Turk pleaded with Jackson not to allow Seymour "to turn this perjury prosecution into a vehicle for once again trotting out prejudicial allegations of unlawful activity that he cannot prove and for which Mr. Deaver is not on trial."
A hint of drama occurred when Jackson disclosed that President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, were on the list of 216 potential witnesses for the trial. However, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said later in the day that the Reagans did not expect to be called to testify.
As expected, the prospective witness list read like a Who's Who in the Reagan administration, including Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, former national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter and Attorney General Edwin Meese III.