Monday, July 17, 2006

'Valerie Plamegate' Scandal Gets Hotter With Lawsuit Against White House 'Gang of Three'

Ex-CIA Agent & Hubby Sue Cheney, Libby & Rove for 'Violating Their Constitutional Rights' -- But 'Executive Immunity' May Shield Vice President Until After He Leaves Office in '09

Plus: An Update On North Korea Missile Crisis

(Updated 2:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 19, 2006)
(Readers' Feedback follows)

By Skeeter Sanders


With his trial for his alleged role in the illegal outing of a CIA agent not scheduled to begin until early next year, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, thought he would spend this summer cruising below the radar screen of media scrutiny.

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, probably thought the same thing, perhaps even planning to spend his summer gearing up for the upcoming battle for control of Congress in this fall's election.


And no doubt the vice president himself was looking forward to spending a quiet summer as well.

But Valerie Plame, the CIA agent at the center of the scandal -- which this blogger and others have chosen to name after her -- and her husband, former U.S. envoy Joseph Wilson, had other ideas. And last week, they made their "other ideas" known in a huge way.

In what one reporter called "a Beltway version of 'Garbo Talks'," a reference to the reclusive 1930s film star Greta Garbo, Plame publicly lashed out the vice president, his former aide and Bush's top political strategist, saying that she felt betrayed by "a few reckless individuals within the current administration" and vowed to make them "answer for their shameful conduct."


To that end, Plame and Wilson announced that they had filed a civil lawsuit against the so-called "White House Gang of Three" in U.S. District Court in Washington, accusing them of a conspiracy to leak information about her employment by the CIA. To do so is a criminal offense under federal law.


Plame's Identity Exposed By Columnist Robert Novak


It was Plame's "coming-out," sort to speak -- her first public comments since her identity was exposed by syndicated columnist Robert Novak exactly three years earlier. The fact that she chose the third anniversary of Novak's column to speak out was no accident.


"I would much rather be continuing my career as a public servant that be a plaintiff in a lawsuit," the 43-year-old Plame told reporters at a Friday news conference. "But I feel strongly -- and justice demands -- that those who acted so harmfully against our national security must answer for their shameful conduct in court."


Plame and Wilson's lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby and Rove of violating the couple's constitutional rights of privacy and free speech by plotting to reveal Plame's identity as a CIA operative and seeks unspecified damages. The plaintiffs said they plan to donate any money they recover, after paying their legal bills, to charity.


Libby already is under criminal indictment, accused of lying to a federal grand jury and to the FBI about when he learned of Plame's identity and what he told the news media.


The couple's attorney, Christopher Wolf, cited Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in accusing the defendants of "engaging in a secret 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit . . .or to 'punish' Ambassador Wilson" for exercising his "right to speak out without his wife's career being destroyed and without his family's privacy being invaded and their personal safety put in jeopardy."


Plame was "outed" by Novak one week after Wilson, in a op-ed column in The New York Times, accused the Bush administration of twisting pre-Iraq War intelligence to justify its 2003 decision to invade the country and topple dictator Saddam Hussein's regime from power.


"If administration officials believed Ambassador Wilson was wrong to criticize [them], they could have addressed the issue substantively and on the record, speaking for attribution and publicly," Wolf said.


Cheney May Be Shielded By "Executive Immunity"


That a sitting vice president of the United States would be sued while in office for actions taken in the conduct of his official duties is without precedent in the annals of American jurisprudence. But even if Cheney did break the law in revealing Plame's identity as a CIA agent, Plame and Wilson may have to wait until after Cheney leaves office in 2009 for their lawsuit against him to proceed -- if at all.


Likewise any criminal prosecution of Cheney by Fitzgerald.


That's because Cheney may very well have "executive immunity" from either civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution against him while he remains in office -- just as his boss, the president, does. It's a longstanding legal principle that was last made clear to the public during the Watergate scandal more than three decades ago.


When a federal grand jury investigating the 1972 Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up handed up indictments against several key aides to then-President Richard Nixon, it cited Nixon himself as an unindicted co-conspirator.


The grand jury had more than enough evidence to formally indict Nixon on charges of obstruction of justice, but could not do so while Nixon remained in office. The thinking was that a sitting president under criminal prosecution or civil litigation against him would be unable to effectively carry out his duties as president -- especially his duty as commander-in-chief of the armed forces -- if he had to spend time defending himself in court.


After Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, the Watergate grand jury quickly prepared to hand up an indictment against him, only to be thwarted by a pardon issued to Nixon by his successor, Gerald Ford -- who only nine months earlier was himself elevated to the vice presidency by an vote of Congress after Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace.


Ford -- who celebrated his 93rd birthday last Friday -- wanted the spare the country the spectacle of a former president on trial, even at the cost he ultimately paid of becoming the nation's only unelected president in 1976 when Ford lost his bid for a full four-year term to Jimmy Carter.


Ford's willingness to sacrifice his own presidency to that end would be acknowledged 22 years later when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

The unanswered question is whether the principle of executive immmunity also applies to the vice president, given the fact that he is, both literally and figuratively, "a heartbeat away" from being catapulted into the presidency in the event of extraordinary unforeseen circumstances befalling the president.


Taking into account the Nixon precedent, this blogger seriously doubts that Plame and Wilson's lawsuit can proceed against Cheney until after the vice president leaves office in 2009. Even then, it's unclear whether Cheney's actions were congruent with his duties as vice president. I'll leave that one for the lawyers and the courts to figure out.


But What About Novak? Didn't He Break the Law When He Exposed Plame?


To this day, it remains a mystery to this blogger why Novak -- best known as the often-acerbic conservative co-host of CNN's now-defunct debate show, "Crossfire" -- has not incurred the wrath of the Bush administration and its conservative supporters for revealing Plame's identity in his column.


It's even more mystifying to me that the administration and its right-wing allies haven't uttered a peep of outrage and indignation against Novak while at the same time, they've loudly raked the so-called "liberal" New York Times over the coals for exposing the administration's illegal and unconstitutional warrantless domestic surveillance program.


A hypocritical double-standard? You're damn right it is.


Novak"s "Outing" Of Plame Recalls 1977 Expose of CIA Agents By Phillip Agee


The hypocrisy by the Right on Novak's "outing" of Valerie Plame is even more outrageous when one recalls the case of Phillip Agee. Remember him? It's because of Phillip Agee that Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 in the first place.


Agee is the renegade former CIA agent and author who revealed the names of literally dozens of CIA and British MI-6 agents in his highly controversial 1977 book, Inside the Company: A CIA Diary. Agee claimed that his Roman Catholic religious beliefs and social conscience had made him increasingly uncomfortable with his work for the agency by the late 1960s.


Agee quit the CIA in 1969, specifically finding fault with the CIA's support for authoritarian military governments across Latina America. He would become particularly angry four years later with the CIA's role in the bloody coup in Chile led by General Augusto Pinochet that overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Salvador Allende, a self-proclaimed socialist.


But CIA employees who worked closely with Agee said his resignation was forced due to his alcoholism, financial mismanagement and extramarital affairs with the wives of diplomats.


After Inside the Company was published, MI-6 blamed Agee’s book for the execution of two of its agents in then-Communist Poland. The British government, at Washington's request, sought to have Agee, who was living in London, deported from Britain. He was eventually expelled from the United Kingdom on June 3, 1977, but rather than return to the United States, Agee fled to the Netherlands. For the next two years, Agee roamed through Europe, until the U.S. revoked his passport in 1979.


A "Worldwide Campaign" Against the CIA


But the revocation of Agee's passport came too late to stop him and a small group of his supporters from publishing the Covert Action Information Bulletin in 1978 -- allegedly with the help of both the Soviet KGB and the Cuban DGI -- to promote "a worldwide campaign to destabilize the CIA through exposure of its operations and personnel."

The following year, Agee published his second book, Dirty Work, a devastating, two-volume magnum opus which exposed the identities over 2,000 covert CIA agents in Western Europe and Africa as well as details about their activities. Conservatives at the time demanded -- rightfully so -- that Agee be prosecuted for treason.

To avoid returning to the U.S., Agee settled in Grenada, whose socialist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, accorded him Grenadian citizenship in 1980. He fled to Nicaragua two years later following the violent overthrow of the Bishop government by hard-line Communists and the subsequent invasion of the island by U.S. troops under then-President Ronald Reagan.

Ultimately, Agee left Nicaragua and took refuge in Cuba after the socialist Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega was voted out of office in a closely-watched 1990 election. He has lived in Cuba ever since.

Today, Agee -- now an avowed socialist and a strong supporter of President Fidel Castro -- runs a Web site from his home in Havana (http://www.cubalinda.com), which uses loopholes in the American trade and travel embargo against Cuba to arrange vacations in Cuba through third countries for American citizens.

Who's Betrayed Whom?


Did the CIA betray what America stands for by aiding and abetting tinpot dictators in Third World countries? You're damn right it did. But did that give Agee the right to expose the identities of CIA agents in his campaign against the agency, putting the lives of those agents in danger? Hell no, it didn't.

Let this blogger be crystal clear: What Phillip Agee did with Dirty Work was nothing less than an act of outright betrayal of this country. Had America formally been at war at the time, Agee would have been prosecuted for treason, a capital offense which is punishible by death.

Does Novak's "outing" of Valerie Plame rise to the level of treason? Of course it doesn't. But should Novak get away scot-free for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act? Hell, no -- unless, as this blogger strongly suspects, Novak struck a deal to cooperate with Fitzgerald's investigation in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

I have no idea how long it will take for Plame and Wilson's lawsuit against the "Gang of Three" to wind its way up through the legal system, but I, for one, am glad that somebody has finally screwed up the courage to do something to hold this administration accountable for its actions.

As I've written in this blog before, this is an administration that thinks it can operate above the law and the Constitution it is bound by its oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend."

Not to mention obey.

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NORTH KOREA UPDATE:
It now appears likely that at least one aspect of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as this blogger feared in last week's article, is about to repeat itself. The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday in favor of a Japanese-sponsored resolution imposing sanctions to prevent North Korea from acquiring dangerous -- read: nuclear -- weapons.

Less than 45 minutes after the Council's unanimous vote -- even China and Russia voted "yes" -- Pyongyang responded by categorically rejecting the resolution as "irresponsible" and vowed to conduct more test-firings of its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

"Our Republic [The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the North is formally known] will bolster its war deterrent for self-defense in every way, by all means and methods, now that the situation has reached the worst phase due to the extremely hostile act of the United States," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

In a rare public display of impatience with its longtime ally, China not only voted in favor of the resolution, but Chinese President Hu Jintao demanded Sunday that North Korea return to the long-stalled six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

"Both sides expressed their commitment to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Hu told reporters after a meeting with President Bush on the sidelines of a summit of Group of Eight leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia. "Both sides agreed to continue their efforts to move forward with the six-party talks so that at the end of the day the entire Korean peninsula can be de-nuclearized in a peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation."

Beijing's decision to join in the mounting international pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program apparently was triggered by North Korea's snub of a Chinese delegation sent to Pyongyang to defuse the crisis triggered by the North's test-firing of seven ballistic missiles on July 4 -- including an unsuccessful test of a long-range Taepodong-2 ICBM.

As this blogger wrote last week, China can ill-afford to have a nuclear crisis on its southeastern flank as it enters the final two years of preparations to host the world for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Expect China to take a more active role in trying to defuse the crisis.

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Volume I, Number 36
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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READERS' FEEDBACK


From: John Long, Burlington,Vermont:


Valerie Plame was a low-level CIA agent, not even in the field. Her identity was well known to all her friends. An agent never lets anyone know they're an agent -- at least a good one anyway.

Her scum of a husband, Joe Wilson, had it out for the Bush administration from the beginning; he deserved to be targeted as he was. As for The New York Times, they uncovered classified secrets, with the effect of alerting, and thereby aiding the Muslim terrorists as to what we were doing about them.

This is TREASON and [The Times] should be prosecuted as such. Why the Feds haven't brought treason charges against those at The Times, who leaked it out, I'll never know.


Furthermore, nothing in the spy program that was uncovered has been proven to be illegal, despite the biased pre-judgement of the liberal media. If anything in that program was illegal, then where are the lawsuits? Where are the indictments?


Oh, I forgot, all that has to wait until we find out if the 'Rats [Democrats] will take over Congress in November. What they can't win at the ballot box, they try to take through the courts.


The 'Rats, from the beginning, have done everything they could to undermine the military's effort, with their constant whining and complaining, their morale-damaging magnification of any mistake the soldiers make, and now outright sympathy for the enemy. They need to be called to account for their treason and sedition before they succeed in pulling the same thing they pulled in Vietnam.


The nation's attention really isn't on that issue right now. It's more focused on the new war between Israel and the Muslim terrorists of Hezbollah. Already, the Left is finding ways to blame Bush for it all (So what else is new?).


The Israelis must be given full leeway to deal with them as they see fit and if the rest of the world has a problem with that, then the rest of the world can shove it and deal with their "Israelophobia."


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