WASHINGTON – Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against Vice President Dick Cheney, presidential adviser Karl Rove and former vice-presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, accusing the three of violating their constitutional rights in retaliation for Wilson’s criticism of President Bush.
The Wilsons say that after Joseph 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.”
They 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 Wilson for retribution by enemies of the U.S. They also claim the incident has impaired their professional opportunities. Plame Wilson has since retired from the agency.
The White House declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did the vice president’s office. Plame, Wilson and their attorneys declined to comment Thursday, saying they will answer questions at a news conference scheduled for 10 a.m. today.
Libby has already been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly obstructing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the leak.
But legal analysts said the civil lawsuit could open new avenues for extracting information from the administration because the Wilsons could conduct discovery if the U.S. District Court in Washington lets the suit proceed.
The Wilsons might be entitled to demand documents from Cheney and others and 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 – the Wilsons “could go out and look into a lot of things that Fitzgerald didn’t look into,” said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA.
First, though, the Wilsons would probably have to overcome Cheney’s claim 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 likely would argue that the same should apply to him, legal analysts said.
Though Plame Wilson claims her opportunities to work undercover for the CIA have been permanently spoiled, she was never actually fired.
As a result, said Akhil Amar, a Yale law professor, Cheney can claim that “what he did was merely speak rather than fire. … He can wrap himself in the First Amendment.”