Former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband sued Vice President Dick Cheney, top White House aide Karl Rove and others on Thursday for their role in disclosing her classified CIA employment.
The lawsuit alleged “a conspiracy among current and former high-level officials in the White House” to “discredit, punish and seek revenge” against Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for publicly disputing statements made by Bush justifying the war in Iraq.
The suit was the latest twist in a long-running saga over the public exposure of Plame that put President Bush on the defensive over his campaign to justify the war and reached into the highest levels of the White House.
The lawsuit comes at a time when Rove, Bush’s top political aide, seeks to keep Congress in Republican hands in November elections. Rove learned last month he would not face criminal charges in the CIA leak investigation.
Plame and Wilson’s suit said the couple suffered violations of their constitutional and legal rights, including an invasion of their privacy, and that the disclosure of her name destroyed her CIA career.
The suit said the couple fear for their safety and that of their children because disclosure of Plame’s covert identity made the family a potential target for people or groups hostile to the United States or its intelligence officers.
The CIA-leak case flared after Wilson accused the administration of leaking his wife’s name to punish him for writing in the New York Times that the Bush administration twisted intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war launched by Washington in 2003.
An investigation led to the indictment of a top Cheney aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, last year on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. He is the only person charged in the case.
The 23-page lawsuit said the defendants “embarked on an anonymous ‘whispering campaign’ designed to discredit and injure the plaintiffs and to deter other critics from publicly speaking out.”
“This lawsuit concerns the intentional and malicious exposure by senior officials of the federal government of one such human source at the CIA, Valerie Plame Wilson, whose job it was to gather intelligence to make the nation safer and who risked her life for her country,” the suit said.
The suit also named Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, and 10 unnamed senior government officials or political operatives.
While no specific dollar amount is requested, the lawsuit sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride had no comment on the lawsuit. “This relates to a matter already before the courts, so our policy is not to comment on a matter in litigation,” she said.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Rove’s legal team, said, “It is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit.”
Plame’s name was disclosed in the news media by conservative columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.
The long-anticipated lawsuit came a day after Novak said Rove and former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow had confirmed what one other unnamed administration official told him about Plame.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said, “It is unfortunate that it looks like it will take a criminal investigation and now a civil suit to expose all those who harmed Valerie Plame.”
(additional reporting by Deborah Charles)
© 2006 Reuters