BREAKING: Plame Files Suit Against Cheney, Rove, Libby

Well, it certainly isn’t a slow news day:

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 revealing Plame’s CIA identity in seeking revenge against 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.

It’s hard to imagine that Plame has a case considering that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald couldn’t even bring charges against any of the individuals named in her suit. But then again, O.J. is walking the streets right now, so who knows.

UPDATE: Believe it or not, JPod is celebrating.

UPDATE: According to Wilsons’ lawyer, “this lawsuit concerns the intentional and malicious exposure by senior officials of the federal government of [Plame].” And, despite the lower burden of proof in a civil case, there still hasn’t been one shred of evidence that indicates an “intentional and malicious” effort by anyone to specifically “out” Plame.

UPDATE: The Complaint is available here (hat tip: Anderson).

UPDATE: Allah’s quoting Glenn Close.

UPDATE: Sister Toldjah: “I guess this story had about run its course in the DC cocktail party circuit? As they say, it ain’t over til it’s over, and Joe ‘restoring honesty’ Wilson doesn’t want it to be over. It’s all about ‘getting Rove’ even though a special prosecutor found no evidence he was involved in any alleged wrongdoing regarding trying to discredit the liar.”

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Greg Tinti
About Greg Tinti
Greg started the blog The Political Pit Bull in August 2005. He was OTB's Breaking News Editor from June through August 2006 before deciding to return to his own blog. His blogging career eventually ended altogether. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from The George Washington University,


  1. Anderson says:

    Itâ??s hard to imagine that Plame has a case considering that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald couldnâ??t even bring charges against any of the individuals named in her suit.

    Omigod, I did *not* just read that. (Leaving aside the obvious fact that Libby was indeed charged; I assume Tinti meant “charges for burning her cover”?)

    Let’s see: criminal case, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Civil case, “preponderance of the evidence.”

    Most people who were in the U.S. during the O.J. trial picked up that little distinction, assuming they hadn’t gleaned it elsewhere.

    … It will be interesting to see what kind of privilege claims the defendants make. The Paula Jones case involved conduct *before* holding the office in question; will Plame’s case be put on hold until after the Cheney administration ends?

  2. Scott_T says:

    Isn’t there a statue of limitations on civil cases usually?

    Over 3 years after the fact is a really long time to go after someone.

    If she had REALLY been concerned about who leaked her name, she should of sued right after it happened to find out who leaked her name.

    Oh but wait, that would of meant that she couldn’t of waited for Fitzmas.

  3. Anderson says:

    Isnâ??t there a statue of limitations on civil cases usually?

    Now, *that* is a reasonable point, but the law will probably depend on the jurisdiction she’s suing in, which the article doesn’t specify. (“U.S. District Court”–how helpful. Presumably state law will apply.)

    And she may be able to plead that the statute didn’t begin to run until she “knew or reasonably should have known” that Rove, Cheney, & Libby were the supposed tortfeasors.

    Doubtless a copy of the complaint will be online & heavily parsed in the next 24 hours.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Wouldn’t things filed in federal court by under federal rules, regardless of which state it was in? I agree on the statute of limitations issue. Presumably, the clock would have started ticking with Fitzgerald’s final report; it would be rather unfair to the plaintiff to have the clock run out before they know who the defendant should be!

    On the merits, though, she’d have one hell of a time proving Cheney or anyone else “conspired to destroy her career.” Please. They “conspired” to do damage control on her husband’s NYT op-ed. What they hell did they care about some lowly desk agent’s career?

  5. Anderson says:

    This dKos post links to the Complaint, which is in the D.C. District Court and assigned to a Judge John D. Bates. Federal claims including First, Fifth, Fourteenth Amendment violations (“right to privacy”–good luck), etc.

    “Public disclosure of private facts” is interesting–IIRC from the lawsuit filed in the Washingtonienne affair, D.C. actually has pretty wide liability there.

    I would bet 60/40 right now against any recovery in the case, but it may be fun to watch.

  6. Anderson says:

    Anderson: Wouldnâ??t things filed in federal court by under federal rules, regardless of which state it was in?

    Federal rules, yes; in a diversity suit, state or D.C. law would apply to state-law causes of action. You can sue me in federal court for trespassing on your lawn, hitting your car, etc., if it meets the diversity rules, and state law would govern.

    But now that we see the Complaint, it evidently tries to plead almost exclusively federal causes of action, so my initial guess was wrong, though my hunch remains that Plame would be better off with state-law claims … if she had any …. This is a Republican judge in a Republican circuit, and I don’t think he’s going to be real into novel causes of action.

  7. Kyle says:

    Hmmm… isn’t this a freedom of speech issue?

    Cheney/Rove didn’t break the law, and they have the RIGHT to speak… and they didn’t lie….

    Soooo… in essence they are being sued for telling the truth?

    Its a matter of public record that she was married to him. Its also been said that she was NOT undercover (which is why IMO there have been no charges). They were not speaking in the capacity of their office…

    Hmmm… Counter suit time? Is the ACLU willing to help Rove / Cheney with their Freedom of Speech case?

  8. Anderson,

    You might want to check out the interview Novaks gave the other day on all this.

    Here are a few samples.

    “Columnist Robert Novak said Wednesday that a conversation with White House aide Karl Rove that became an important part of the Valerie Plame affair lasted about 20 seconds.”

    [Must be those super mind rays that allow Rove to force lesser beings to do his bidding with only 20 seconds of exposure]

    “Regarding Wilson’s CIA-sponsored trip, Novak said he told Rove, “I understand that his wife works at the CIA and she initiated the mission.” The columnist said Rove replied, “Oh, you know that, too.””

    “”I don’t believe that it was a conscious leak,” Novak said of the source.”

    Now yes the level of proof required is certainly lower for a civil vs criminal prosecution, but there needs to be some proof.

    On the plus side for Wilson/Plame, if the DC court draws their jury pool from DC, they might have a chance to find a ‘persuadable’ jury.

    I suspect on balance that this will hurt the left more as Plame isn’t likely to win, the scope available for subpoena is broad in a civil case and this is likely to open up more information hurtful to the left than the right, Wilson/Plame are open to libel and slander charges against them as a counter suit (and yes, I think you can clear the malicious intent hurdle). Of course most people have probably ignored this or have already made up their mind about it. The chances of this changing many minds is not high, but if it does, those change minds are likely to come from the discovery done on Wilson/Plame as opposed to rehashing what we know about Rove et al.

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I would hope they would nationally televise the cross examination of Wilson and Plame. I would pay to watch.

  10. Anderson says:

    Its also been said that she was NOT undercover (which is why IMO there have been no charges).

    Sigh. Whether or not she was “covert” in the sense of the IIPA, there is no room to doubt that she was indeed undercover. The CIA freaked when she was burned. She had a front company through which she worked. Ex-CIA have attested to her undercover status.

    Against which, there’s … what to say that she wasn’t undercover? Hearsay gossip that “everyone” knew she was CIA? Leaving aside that “works for CIA” and “is an undercover NOC” are two different things.

    Whether she has a valid cause of action is beyond my legal competence, as I don’t practice law in that area. Hopefully we’ll see some intelligent commentary.

    Regarding JJ’s remark that Cheney et al. didn’t care about her cover, the allegation has long been that they burned her to retaliate against Wilson. Leaving aside the plausible claim that if they had reason to believe that her career would be damaged, but burned her anyway, they may have acted recklessly enough to be tortfeasors.

    But we’ll see. Like I said, I am skeptical that Plame ever collects a dime, but more knowledgeable attorneys will doubtless be speaking out in the next few days.

  11. Anderson says:

    YAJ, you’ll forgive me if I don’t assume that whatever Novak said is automatically true.

    For ex, his claim that he and Rove didn’t confer to get their stories straight has been impugned by others.

    I agree that discovery on both sides will be interesting. Wilson is, to put it politely, a “character.” On the other hand, if someone did that to my wife, I would be a character, too.

    Oh, & re: the statute of limitations, the Novak column ran 7/14/03, so it certainly appears that Plame’s lawyers think it’s a 3-year SOL, which sounds plausible.

  12. Fersboo says:

    Wilson is, to put it politely, a �character.� On the other hand, if someone did that to my wife, I would be a character, too.

    Did what? List themselves in the Who’s Who? Have the parody of an article done in a magazine like the Vanity Fair? Be the life of the Washington Elites Social Circuit?

    Mr. Anderson, you aren’t really Joe “I can’t find no yellowcake” Wilson are you?

  13. McGehee says:

    The CIA freaked

    Wrongly, from the looks of things now. Somebody at CIA foisted a boondoggle on taxpayers with that referral.

  14. Anderson,

    I’m just pointing out a witness. The trial is going to be more about facts and witnesses than left wing dreams.

    As far as the CIA “freaking” when she was outed, Novak reported that it was the CIA public relations guy who confirmed she worked for the CIA. Now maybe this was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing, but it is going to be pretty hard to make the case that these three guys set out to wreck her career by exposing her CIA connection on the basis of one 20 second conversation with Rove and the CIA spokesperson confirming her employment.

    I know you were disappoint with the Fitzmas and I know that you can dream visions of frog marching Roves with this, I’m just suggesting that you don’t get your hopes up to much as they are likely to be dashed.

    As far as the statute of limitations go, I wonder when that clock started running. Because the conversations Novak had where prior to 7/14.

    As far as seeing it thrown out of court, I doubt that will happen. If you take all the accusations as true (aka no evidence, just assume they can prove any and everything) then they might have a case. The real question is did they owe any duty to Plame not to wreck her career. I sure can’t think of any cases like this, but who knows.

  15. Anderson says:

    YAJ, the clock can’t run until Plame had some way to know her cover had been blown. The date of the Novak column seems reasonable. Agree with you that a 12(b)(6) motion probably won’t work, but I suspect that it will be difficult to proceed against a sitting VP on an alleged tort committed *while in office*.

    (And the CIA guy that Novak cites has a very different version of the facts.)

    Eugene Volokh is “swamped” but finds the causes of action “pretty weak”–follow this link to see what his commenters think, some of whom I hope will be much more up on the applicable law than I am. If the complaint’s really that weak, then even a 12(b)(6) might have a shot, esp. with a conservative judge.

    Fersboo, as explained above, I believe the evidence shows that Plame was undercover and that Novak’s column burned her. You can disagree, but if she *weren’t* undercover, I think we would have some good evidence of that fact, 3 years down the road.

  16. Anderson,

    The differences between Harlow and Novak’s accounts aren’t that far apart. Harlow says he never told Novak that Plame “authorized” Wilson going on the trip, Novack says Harlow confirmed that Plame “suggested” Wilson for the trip. Certainly you can split hairs between authorized and suggested.

    Harlow says he didn’t confirm or deny Plame’s being undercover because that was “classified”, but he did confirm that she worked at the CIA and suggested Wilson for the trip. Novak says he asked that she not be identified by name (kind of meaningless when the Who’ Who book had her) and that ‘she probably never again would be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause ‘difficulties.’

    Like the differences between Rove “You heard that too” and Novak “You know that too”, the differences in testimony aren’t going to go very far for proving malicious intent.

    You know that if there are no criminal indictments on outing her (and it sure looks like that’s the way to bet) and if she loses the civil case, then the left is going to have to admit that their couple of years of conspiracy theory was just a bunch of caca.

  17. Anderson says:

    You know that if there are no criminal indictments on outing her (and it sure looks like thatâ??s the way to bet) and if she loses the civil case, then the left is going to have to admit that their couple of years of conspiracy theory was just a bunch of caca.

    You assume an exact correspondence between jurisprudence and truth!

    But yes, I do hope we find out *some* definitive answers via this suit (undercover or not, for ex). The heat/light ratio of the Plame case has always been pretty high.

  18. James Joyner says:

    If we believe Novak’s contention that the CIA press spokesman was the guy who confirmed Plame/Wilson’s status with the CIA before he ran the column–which I do–then it would seem to belie the “covert” claim.

  19. Christopher says:

    Anderson, why is it that “Ex-CIA have attested to her undercover status” is NOT hearsay but “everyone knew she was CIA” IS hearsay? Sounds like you are picking and choosing based on your liberal status.

    You liberals are great! Keep it up! LOL!