- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The perjury conviction yesterday of former White House official I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. clears the way for a civil suit against him by former CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband.

Libby was convicted of lying to investigators probing the leak of Mrs. Plame’s identity in the wake of her husband’s criticism of White House handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence, although Libby neither committed nor was charged with committing the leak.

Mrs. Plame and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, sued Libby; his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney; and senior presidential adviser Karl Rove in July, saying the officials had violated their constitutional rights as part of a plot to retaliate against Mr. Wilson and discredit his criticism.

According to the lawsuit, the three officials, along with others not named, “reached an agreement 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.”

The lawsuit has been on hold during the Libby prosecution, but legal scholars say the conviction clears the way for it to be heard.

“Certainly if Libby had been acquitted, it would have been very damaging to the civil case,” said Jonathon Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School.

Some of the facts that emerged from the criminal trial are relevant to the civil case, attorneys said. Officials testified to the close involvement of Mr. Cheney in the White House effort to respond to Mr. Wilson’s criticism and his enlistment of other officials, including fellow defendant Mr. Rove, in the effort.

Testimony in the case also confirmed that Libby spoke with several reporters about Mrs. Plame’s CIA employment.

On the other hand, it also became clear that contrary to what the lawsuit charges, neither Libby nor anyone else in the White House had been the source of the original leak to columnist Robert Novak, which came from State Department official Richard L. Armitage.

Melanie Sloan, Mrs. Plame’s attorney and executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the civil case would “provide the American public with its only opportunity to hear directly from Cheney, Libby, Rove and Armitage about what really took place behind the scenes after Joe Wilson exposed the truth about the administration’s justification for the Iraq war.”

The three defendants have argued that, as government officials, they are immune from being sued. It is the same grounds on which President Clinton sought unsuccessfully to quash Paula Jones’ lawsuit.

Mr. Turley said Mr. Cheney and the others have a much better case than Mr. Clinton did. “Clinton’s argument verged on the frivolous,” he said, because the president was “clearly using his official immunity in a personal matter.”

Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove and Libby can argue that they were carrying out government policy and therefore deserve civil immunity, Mr. Turley said.

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