By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2007
A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Cheney and other top officials over the Bush administration's disclosure of Plame's name and covert status to the media.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said that Cheney and the others could not be held liable for the disclosures in the summer of 2003 in the midst of a White House effort to rebut criticism of the Iraq war by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. The judge said that such efforts are a natural part of the officials' job duties, and, thus, they are immune from liability.
"The alleged means by which defendants chose to rebut Mr. Wilson's comments and attack his credibility may have been highly unsavory," Bates wrote. "But there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism, such as that levied by Mr. Wilson against the Bush administration's handling of prewar foreign intelligence, by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level Executive Branch officials."
The lawsuit alleged that Cheney; his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby; senior White House adviser Karl Rove; and then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage violated the couple's privacy and constitutional rights by participating in discussions that led to Plame's identity being publicly revealed. The couple maintained that the leaks to reporters were an illegal effort to retaliate against Wilson, and that they ruined Plame's chance for career advancement and were meant to harass them.
Plame's identity was disclosed in a syndicated column in July 2003, days after Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence that Wilson had gathered on a mission for the CIA. He said that the White House sought to exaggerate Iraq's nuclear threat and to justify an unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
The disclosure led to a lengthy leak investigation, in which Libby, Rove and Armitage were found to have disclosed classified information about Plame's CIA employment to reporters, and Cheney was revealed to have told Libby about it while instructing him to seek out reporters to rebut Wilson's allegations.
Libby was convicted in March of lying to a grand jury and to FBI agents investigating the leak, and was sentenced in June to 2 1/2 years in prison. President Bush commuted Libby's sentence this month, eliminating the prison time. No one was charged with the crime of intentionally disclosing Plame's covert identity.
Bates stressed in his ruling that the couple's allegations "pose important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials," but that he had to dismiss the claims for jurisdictional reasons and so would not express an opinion on their merits.
He also ruled that his court lacks the power to award damages for the claims about public disclosure of private information about Plame, because the couple has not yet exhausted other remedies in seeking compensation from the appropriate federal agencies for those alleged violations.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and one of the Wilsons' lawyers, said yesterday that they expect to appeal the ruling.
"While we are obviously very disappointed by today's decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court," Sloan said in a statement. "We disagree with the court's holding and intend to pursue this case vigorously."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment. Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said he is "pleased that the court has dismissed this lawsuit."
Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, said: "We're obviously pleased with the decision and confident that Judge Bates's analysis will withstand any appellate scrutiny."