Former CIA Officer Plame Sues VP Cheney

Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, have filed a civil lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, and a handful of other top-level administration officials. They claim that Cheney endangered their lives and violated their privacy when he allegedly exposed Plame as a CIA operative.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Good morning. Vice President Dick Cheney is being sued by Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson. Other White House officials also face a lawsuit, because Plame and Wilson say the White House leaked Plame's identity as an undercover CIA agent to retaliate for Wilson's criticism of the Bush administration. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Three years ago today, these words appeared in Robert Novak's newspaper column: Valerie Plame is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Now, Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, say that column capped a high-level White House conspiracy to sabotage Plame's career.

Joseph Wilson criticized the White House's Iraq war intelligence in a New York Times op-ed. The lawsuit accuses Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Lewis Libby, presidential advisor Karl Rove, and ten unnamed officials or retaliating by leaking Plame's identity to the media.

The suit says the White House, quote, embarked on an anonymous whispering campaign designed to discredit and injure the plaintiffs and to deter other critics from publicly speaking out. Rove spokesman, Mark Corallo, released this statement.

Mr. MARK CORALLO (Spokesman for Karl Rove): It is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit.

SHAPIRO: Plame and Wilson are requesting unspecified damages and attorney fees. They say they've suffered gross invasions of privacy. They fear for their safety and the safety of their children. And they accuse the White House of abusing power out of vindictiveness.

Washington attorney, Scott Frederickson, says the fact that one of the defendants is a sitting vice president, raises all kinds of constitutional questions.

Mr. SCOTT FREDERICKSON (Washington Attorney): There are issues of executive privilege; immunity; the issue of whether a sitting vice president can be sued for acts this vice president allegedly took while sitting in office; and can he be sued while he's still in office.

SHAPIRO: George Washington University law professor, Mary Chase, says the law gives government officials some immunity, but it's limited.

Professor MARY CHASE (George Washington University): Often high level government officials have protection against merely negligent acts, because we don't want them looking over their shoulders and being subject to lawsuits at every turn. On the other hand, one of the things that they're alleging there, is that there was a purposeful, intentional harm to them. So it wasn't simple negligence.

SHAPIRO: These issues my not be resolved for some time. Lewis Libby, who's one of the defendants in this case, also faces criminal charges for allegedly lying to a grand jury and FBI investigators about his role in the leak. Former U.S. Attorney, Tom DeBaggio, says that case my halt the progress of this lawsuit.

Mr. TOM DEBAGGIO (Former U.S. Attorney): Whenever you bring a civil case that's related to an ongoing criminal case, you run the risk of having your civil case stayed until the criminal case is resolved.

SHAPIRO: So the judge could put this lawsuit on hold until Libby's criminal trial is over. Even if the judge does issue a stay, Plame's lawyer says they wanted to file the suit before the third anniversary of Novak's column, to beat the statute of limitations on the alleged offenses

Ari Shapiro, NPR's News, Washington.

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