A federal judge told the Justice Department on Thursday to give him secret notes from an FBI interview of former Vice President Dick Cheney as part of an investigation into the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
Judge Emmett Sullivan wants to review the documents as part of a case that will determine whether the interview notes will become public. He gave the Justice Department until July 1 to turn over the documents, which he will review privately.
The judge’s move came as the Obama administration continues to defend the legal positions of the Bush administration on the Plame affair.
In addition to fighting against the release of the interview notes, the Obama Justice Department is carrying on its predecessor’s opposition to a lawsuit filed by Mrs. Plame and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, against several top Bush administration officials, including Mr. Cheney. The Justice Department recently asked the Supreme Court not to hear an appeal of the case, which has been dismissed by two lower courts.
Justice argued, as it had under former President George W. Bush, that future criminal probes might be hampered if the nation’s top officials knew their words could become public, free for use as fodder by political opponents and late-night comics.
“If we become a fact-finder for political enemies, they aren’t going to cooperate,” department lawyer Jeffrey Smith argued during a hearing Thursday. “I don’t want a future vice president to say, ‘I’m not going to cooperate with you because I don’t want to be fodder for “The Daily Show.” ‘ ”
The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday on Judge Sullivan’s request.
The watchdog group that brought the suit cheered the ruling.
“He’s made it clear, I think, that the government has not met its burden,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “I think they actually have a pretty weak case.”
CREW dismissed the argument about future noncooperation from presidents and vice presidents, contending that the law enforcement exemption was meant to protect ongoing investigations, not potential future probes.
The suit stems from CREW’s 2008 Freedom of Information Act request that sought “transcripts, reports, notes and other documents relating to any interviews outside the presence of the grand jury of Vice President Richard B. Cheney that are part of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson.”
At issue in the case, according to court records, are three documents that total 67 pages. Portions of the documents describe internal deliberations involving senior White House officials, including the preparation of the 2003 State of the Union address.
That State of the Union address figured prominently in the ensuing scandal that became known as “Plamegate.” In the address, Mr. Bush said then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium in Africa. Mr. Wilson publicly criticized that claim, which the couple says led the Bush administration to leak information about Mrs. Plame’s work for the CIA to columnist Robert Novak as an act of revenge.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage was ultimately revealed as the source of the leak.