Judge tosses out ex-spy's lawsuit against Cheney in CIA leak case - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Judge tosses out ex-spy's lawsuit against Cheney in CIA leak case

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by outed spy Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Bush administration officials.

Plame had accused members of the Bush administration of leaking her identity. To knowingly disclose classified information to unauthorized recipients is a crime, and Plame's position was classified.

U.S. District Judge John Bates said the lawsuit raises "important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials." But in a 41-page decision, he found Plame and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, failed to show the case belongs in federal court.

Plame's identity as a CIA operative was exposed in July 2003 after Wilson publicly challenged a key argument in the Bush administration's case for the invasion of Iraq. The couple argued the disclosure destroyed her career and was done to retaliate against Wilson, who said the administration had "twisted" the evidence used to justify the invasion. CIA leak timeline »

Bates, a Bush appointee, agreed with defense arguments that federal law protects Cheney and the other top administration officials from being sued for actions taken as part of their official duties.

The way the defendants handled criticism from Joseph Wilson "may have been highly unsavory," the judge wrote, but "there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism ... by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level executive branch officials."

Valerie Plame's exposure ignited a criminal probe that led to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conviction in March on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents investigating the leak. President Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison term earlier this month, calling it "excessive," but let the verdicts stand.

Melanie Sloan, the Wilsons' lawyer, said the couple plans to appeal Thursday's ruling.

"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," she said in a statement.

Joseph Wilson said the decision was "just the first step in what we have always known would be a long legal battle."

"This case is not just about what top government officials did to Valerie and me," he said in a statement issued to reporters. "We brought this suit because we strongly believe that politicizing intelligence ultimately serves only to undermine the security of our nation."

Lea Ann McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, said "the vice president is pleased that the court has dismissed the lawsuit."

The Libby defense team declined to comment. Libby, with his appeal still pending, has deferred to defense attorney Ted Wells to speak for the Libby family. Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman, told CNN "there will be no statement."

In addition to Libby and Cheney, the lawsuit also named former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser.

During the course of the leak probe, Rove and Armitage were found to have been the two "senior administration officials" columnist and former CNN contributor Robert Novak cited in identifying Plame as a CIA operative. Both cooperated with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, and neither was charged with a crime.

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