Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, filed a lawsuit yesterday against Vice President Cheney, presidential adviser Karl Rove and former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, accusing the three of violating their constitutional rights in retaliation for Wilson's criticism of President Bush.
Plame and Wilson say that, after Wilson accused Bush of twisting intelligence about Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, Cheney, Rove and Libby conspired to "discredit, punish and seek revenge against the plaintiffs that included, among other things, disclosing to members of the press Plaintiff Valerie Plame Wilson's classified CIA employment."
Plame and Wilson ask for unspecified monetary compensation for what they described as a "gross invasion of privacy" that could jeopardize the safety of their children and target Plame for retribution by enemies of the United States. They also allege that the incident has impaired their professional opportunities. Plame has since retired from the agency.
The White House declined to comment on the suit, as did the vice president's office. Plame, Wilson and their attorneys declined to comment yesterday, saying they will answer questions at a news conference scheduled for 10 a.m. today.
Libby has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly illegally obstructing Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak.
But legal analysts said the suit could open new avenues for extracting information from the administration, because Plame and Wilson could conduct discovery if the U.S. District Court in Washington lets the suit proceed.
Plame and Wilson might be entitled to demand documents from Cheney and others, as well as to require them to sit for sworn depositions, much as President Bill Clinton had to answer questions under oath in Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit.
And, because the accusations in the suit are separate from the issue Fitzgerald was looking into -- whether anyone violated a federal law against disclosing CIA officers' identities -- Plame and Wilson "could go out and look into a lot of things that Fitzgerald didn't look into," said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
First, though, Plame and Wilson would probably have to overcome a claim by Cheney that the vice president is immune from suit.
There is no clear legal rule on that point, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that a fired whistle-blower could not sue the president, and Cheney would be likely to argue that the same should apply to him, legal analysts said.
Though Plame alleges her opportunities to work undercover for the CIA have been permanently spoiled, she was not fired.
As a result, said Akhil Amar, a law professor at Yale University, Cheney can claim that "what he did was merely speak rather than fire. . . . He can wrap himself in the First Amendment."
The lawsuit uses the timeline and many of the facts uncovered during Fitzgerald's three-year investigation.
Libby, who resigned as Cheney's chief of staff, faces a perjury and obstruction of justice trial next year. Fitzgerald cleared Rove of criminal jeopardy last month.
The filing alleges that White House officials revealed Plame's identity to "to punish Mr. Wilson" for his public statements questioning whether Bush had twisted prewar intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq.
Wilson had been sent by the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had sought nuclear weapons material from Niger. He reported that the charge could not be proved, but Bush nevertheless asserted in his 2003 State of the Union address that intelligence existed that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.
Instead of publicly addressing Wilson's charge, White House officials "embarked on an anonymous 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit and injure the plaintiffs and deter other critics from speaking out," the suit said.
"The audacity and malevolence of that campaign is compounded by the fact that at the same time the Wilsons were being attacked, the administration in fact was acknowledging the validity of Mr. Wilson's public statements," the suit said. "The fact that the administration had to admit its mistake is one likely reason why the Defendants chose to attack the Wilsons."
Note to Joe and Val--your 15 minutes are up. You can let yourselves out.