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The Iraq-Niger Uranium Controversy and the Outing of CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson

Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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An examination of the events surrounding the US and British claims that Iraq tried to purchase ‘yellowcake’ uranium from Niger, and the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson as part of an attempt to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson.

Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA agent whose undercover status was blown by a White House leak of her identity (see July 14, 2003), sues Vice President Dick Cheney, White House aide Karl Rove, and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Plame Wilson accuses them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career as a CIA operative as well as conspiring to besmirch the reputation and integrity of her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who is also part of the lawsuit. The suit does not specify monetary damages to be assessed. [Associated Press, 7/13/2006; New York Times, 7/14/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The Wilsons will later add former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003) to the suit. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007]
Alleges Constitutional, Civil Rights Violations - The lawsuit claims that Cheney, Rove, Libby, and 10 yet-to-be-named government officials—named “John Does 1-10” in the lawsuit—violated the Wilsons’ First Amendment rights to free speech, their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law, and their right to privacy and property. The suit alleges that the defendants conspired to deprive the Wilsons of their civil rights, as well as charging the defendants with neglecting to prevent civil rights violations, public disclosure of private facts, and civil conspiracy. (The “John Doe” defendants will be included when the Wilsons learn who else was involved.) The Wilsons file their lawsuit one day before the statute of limitations would have expired on any such lawsuit. In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that her husband had talked of such a lawsuit since her outing in 2003, but she had consistently avoided the idea. “I got angry, defensive, and emotional,” she will recall. “I didn’t want to talk about it; the leak was still too raw for me and I wasn’t ready yet to think rationally through what such an action would mean.” But when Plame Wilson began to come to terms with the ramifications of the leak to her personal and professional life, she “began to tally up the costs of the campaign to smear Joe and to out me carelessly: the near destruction of Joe’s reputation and his consulting business, the end of my career, the wholesale invasion of our privacy, threats to our physical security, the chronic level of stress that had adversely affected our health in myriad ways, and two small children wondering why their parents were fighting again. A lawsuit couldn’t completely remedy the situation, but to me, it began to look more appealing.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/13/2006 pdf file; New York Times, 7/14/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Trying to Accomplish Three Things in Lawsuit - In discussing the idea, the Wilsons decided that the lawsuit could possibly accomplish three things:
bullet Finding the truth behind what Plame Wilson calls “the erroneous 16 words about the uranium from Niger” and how they made it into President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
bullet Holding “government officials accountable for actions that might be illegal or unconstitutional”; and
bullet Serving “as a deterrent to future public servants who might think they are above the law.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/13/2006 pdf file; Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Rove: Allegations 'without Merit' - Rove spokesman Mark Corallo says, “Without even having had a chance to review the complaint, it is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2006] Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin gives a similar statement to the press: “The allegations are without merit. We may comment further when we have an opportunity to review the complaint.” [New York Times, 7/14/2006]
'Exposing Administration Wrongdoing' - With the continuing attempts from the White House and conservative elements in the media to downplay and/or rewrite the history of the leak (see July 13, 2006), Plame Wilson will write, “Our civil suit seemed to be the only means by which we could expose the administration’s wrongdoing.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 252-254]
Problems with Lawsuit - The lawsuit will face difficulties in bringing the law to bear against Cheney and Rove. The basis for suing federal officials is a 1982 Supreme Court case that says federal officials may be sued for violating someone’s constitutional rights if a reasonable person would believe they had violated “clearly established law.” The Libby investigation has not yet produced solid evidence that there was a deliberate, illegal effort to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 7/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Mark Corallo, George W. Bush, Robert Luskin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage

Category Tags: Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Fitzgerald Investigation, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

The day after Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, file a lawsuit against White House officials over the conspiracy to smear Wilson’s character and expose Plame Wilson as a covert intelligence agent (see July 13, 2006), Plame Wilson speaks about the affair to reporters for the first time. She will later describe herself as suffering from a “dry mouth and shaking knees” as she speaks. She tells reporters in part: “I am proud to have served my country by working at the Central Intelligence Agency. I and my former CIA colleagues trusted our government to protect us as we did our jobs. That a few reckless individuals within the current administration betrayed that trust has been a grave disappointment to every patriotic American; Joe and I have filed this action with a heavy heart but with renewed purpose. I feel strongly that those who acted so recklessly, and who acted in such a harmful way, need to answer for their shameful conduct and to explain their actions in a court of law.” Wilson also releases a statement to the press, which says in part: “[T]his remains a nation of laws. No administration official however powerful is above the law and I have confidence in the American system of justice. This suit is about the pursuit of justice.” [Buzzflash (.com), 7/14/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 254-255]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

Shortly after Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, file a lawsuit against White House officials over the conspiracy to smear Wilson’s character and expose Plame Wilson as a covert intelligence agent (see July 13, 2006), the Wilsons are joined in the lawsuit by a nonpartisan watchdog organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The organization agrees to represent the Wilsons on a pro bono basis. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

Conservative columnist Byron York asserts that former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, have filed a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, White House aide Karl Rove, and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby for monetary gain (see July 13, 2006). Without substantiating his accusations, York writes that Plame Wilson is using the lawsuit to heighten interest in her forthcoming book on her CIA career (see October 22, 2007), while Wilson is using the lawsuit to spur interest in his (presumably paid) speaking engagements. Both want to, in York’s words, “keep interest in the flagging CIA leak case alive.” [The Hill, 7/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Byron York, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove

Category Tags: Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby, Fitzgerald Investigation, Media Responses and Participation

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington logo.Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington logo. [Source: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington]Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson name new counsel for their lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former White House official Lewis Libby (see July 13, 2006). The Wilsons have engaged the non-profit, public interest organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as successor counsel. They have also engaged Washington attorneys Joseph Cotchett and Frank Pitre to represent them at trial. Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky remains as co-counsel. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 8/15/2006] Cheney also retains counsel for the lawsuit. He hires Emmet T. Flood, a Washington lawyer who helped defend former President Bill Clinton during Clinton’s impeachment trial. Though Flood defended Clinton, a Democrat, he has donated money only to Republican political candidates. [TPM Muckraker, 8/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Joseph Cotchett, Emmet Flood, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Erwin Chemerinsky, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Frank Pitre

Category Tags: Exposure of Plame Wilson, Joseph Wilson's Criticism, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

After former State Department official Richard Armitage admits to revealing former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006), Plame Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, add Armitage’s name to their lawsuit alleging that White House officials conspired to reveal her identity and besmirch her husband’s integrity and good name (see July 13, 2006). [NBC News, 9/13/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 260]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

Vice President Dick Cheney asks a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought against him by a former CIA official, Valerie Plame Wilson, who says the White House leaked her identity to the press (see July 13, 2006). He is joined in his request for dismissal by his former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, who is also named in the lawsuit. According to a report by the Associated Press, Cheney’s lawyers say the lawsuit “invented constitutional rights, intruded on national security discussions, and came two years after the statute of limitations had expired.” Cheney’s lawyers also say Plame Wilson has no grounds to bring the lawsuit, and even if she does, Cheney has “qualified immunity” from civil suits by his position as a senior member of the executive branch, and is “absolutely immune from suits for civil damages.” Cheney’s lawyers write in their brief: “Plaintiffs invite the judicial branch to permit intrusive discovery into those communications and to discern which among them might be, as a matter of tort law, wrongful and which not.… Such an inquiry cannot be squared with basic separation of powers principals.” [Associated Press, 11/14/2006; MSNBC, 11/14/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 11/14/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 11/14/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 11/14/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Category Tags: Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Covert Activities, Plame Wilson's CIA Career, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

Bush officials are battling a lawsuit filed against them by former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, according to a report by the Associated Press. Plame Wilson is suing (see July 13, 2006) four Bush administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003)—for deliberately disclosing her identity as a CIA official to the public for political gain. Cheney’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and accuses Plame Wilson of making “fanciful claims.” Plame Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants. Armitage’s lawyer says the suit is “principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals.” Plame Wilson’s lawyer counters by saying the case is “about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman’s career.” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all four defendants, says that none of the officials deliberately disclosed classified information, specifically the information of Plame Wilson’s covert status in the CIA. The defendants’ lawyers claim that they should not be sued personally for actions taken as part of their official duties. And a Justice Department lawyer claims that Cheney should have much the same legal immunity as President Bush. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] The lawsuit will soon be dismissed (see July 19, 2007).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Luskin, US Department of Justice, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove

Category Tags: Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby, Trial of Lewis Libby

A federal district court in Washington dismisses the lawsuit filed by Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson against four current and former White House officials (see July 13, 2006). Judge John C. Bates finds that while the lawsuit, asking for punitive damages against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Lewis Libby, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for violating their rights in outing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, may have merit, and the actions of the defendants were “highly unsavory,” there is no constitutional remedy for their claims. The Wilsons’ allegations pose “important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials,” but the claims are dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. “Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted,” Bates finds. “This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims for public disclosure of private facts.” The Wilsons will appeal the decision; their lawyer, Melanie Sloan, says in a statement: “While we are obviously very disappointed by today’s decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court. We disagree with the court’s holding and intend to pursue this case vigorously to protect all Americans from vindictive government officials who abuse their power for their own political ends.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 305; Bloomberg, 7/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John C. Bates, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Melanie Sloan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Category Tags: Exposure of Plame Wilson, Gov't Attempts to Discredit Wilson, Gov't Cover-Up of Leak, Gov't Involvement in Leak, Joseph Wilson's Criticism, Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

The Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal concerning former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s dismissed lawsuit against four Bush officials (see July 19, 2007). Plame Wilson had sued former Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), former White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003), for deliberately disclosing her covert CIA status to reporters. Plame Wilson and her co-plaintiff, husband Joseph Wilson, have said their case is about “abuse of power at the highest level of American government.” The dismissal of their lawsuit was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2008. [Fox News, 6/22/2009] In May, Solicitor General Elena Kagan urged the Court to deny the Wilsons’ appeal, saying that the lawsuit did not meet the criteria of the 1974 Privacy Act. The law, Kagan argued, barred federal employees from being sued; only their agencies could be sued. [Mother Jones, 6/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Joseph C. Wilson, US Supreme Court, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elena Kagan

Category Tags: Wilsons' Lawsuit v. Cheney, Libby

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