By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009
A federal judge Thursday ordered the Justice Department to make public large portions of statements made by then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney to federal investigators about the Valerie Plame case.
Ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by a public-interest group, the judge dismissed government objections to releasing FBI reports and notes that describe an interview that Cheney had with a special prosecutor.
The government had argued that it could withhold the records because their release might chill cooperation by White House officials in future investigations.
At one point, the Justice Department argued that future officials might not want to talk to investigators if they knew that such interviews might "get on 'The Daily Show' " or be used as a political weapon.
But U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the government's arguments were too vague to justify withholding the documents.
To properly withhold the records, the judge said, the Justice Department has to show that the release of specific information contained in the Cheney reports would harm a future investigation. That is not the case with the Cheney records, the judge wrote.
The government conceded in court hearings that no prosecutions would result from the information Cheney supplied.
Sullivan did agree with the Justice Department, however, that the government can withhold "limited information" involving national security matters, personal information or communications between Cheney and then-President George W. Bush.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act last year.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, said, "Overall, we are very pleased that the judge did not accept an interpretation of FOIA that would have allowed the government to withhold law enforcement records in virtually every case."
She said she was disappointed that the judge is allowing the Justice Department to withhold portions of the documents. Weismann said the redacted portions of the documents might be "the most revealing."
Justice Department spokesman Matthew A. Miller said the agency is reviewing the decision.
The judge ordered that the documents be turned over by Oct. 9. CREW wanted documents describing Cheney's interviews with Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004 as part of the special prosecutor's probe of the Bush administration's leak of Plame's connection to the CIA.
Plame was a covert CIA officer until her name appeared in the media after public criticism by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat, of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq.
Cheney was not charged with wrongdoing, but his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and perjury in the probe.