WASHINGTON – The CIA officer whose identity was leaked to reporters sued Vice President Dick Cheney, his former top aide and presidential adviser Karl Rove on Thursday, accusing them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, accused Cheney, Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of participating in a "whispering campaign" to reveal Plame's CIA identity and punish Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq.
Several news organizations wrote about Plame after syndicated columnist Robert Novak named her in a column on July 14, 2003. Novak's column appeared eight days after Wilson alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.
The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger in early 2002 to determine whether there was any truth to reports that Saddam Hussein's government had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger to make a nuclear weapon. Wilson discounted the reports, but the allegation nevertheless wound up in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Rove, said, "Without even having had a chance to review the complaint, it is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit."
The lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby, Rove and 10 unnamed administration officials or political operatives of putting the Wilsons and their children's lives at risk by exposing Plame.
"This lawsuit concerns the intentional and malicious exposure by senior officials of the federal government of ... (Plame), whose job it was to gather intelligence to make the nation safer and who risked her life for her country," the Wilsons' lawyers said in the lawsuit.
Specifically, the lawsuit accuses the White House officials of violating the Wilsons' constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of speech. It also accuses the officials of violating the couple's privacy rights.
Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, is the only administration official charged in connection with the leak investigation. He faces trial in January on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about when he learned Plame's identity and what he subsequently told reporters.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald told Rove's lawyer last month that he had decided not to seek criminal charges against Rove.
The lawsuit alleges that Cheney, Libby and Rove used Plame to punish Wilson for his public statements about the administration's portrayal of the intelligence on Iraq.
"As their chief method of punishment, the White House officials destroyed (Plame's) cover by revealing her classified employment with the CIA to reporters," the lawsuit said.
Instead of confronting Wilson on the issue, the lawsuit said, the White House officials "embarked on an anonymous 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit ... (the Wilsons) and to deter other critics from speaking out."
According to court filings in Libby's case, Cheney played a key role in a White House effort to counter Wilson's charges.
Cheney cut out Wilson's New York Times article and scribbled on it, "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an ambassador to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"
Libby told a grand jury that Cheney was so upset about Wilson's allegations that they discussed them daily after the article appeared. "He was very keen to get the truth out," Libby testified, quoting Cheney as saying, "Let's get everything out."
A key aspect of Libby's defense is whose memory is accurate: Libby's or the reporters'.