Attorney Explains Why Reporters Not Targeted In ‘Plame’ Suit

By: Joe Strupp

Attorney Erwin Chemerinsky, a co-counsel for Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, said the couple’s lawsuit against three top Bush administration officials who leaked her CIA identity in 2003 does not include reporters who received and reported the information because they were not “the appropriate targets.”

“My sense is that there wasn’t a desire to get into freedom of the press issues here,” Chemerinsky told E&P today, one day after the lawsuit was filed. “The appropriate targets of the lawsuit are those who abused their power in government.”

Chemerinsky even acknowledged that the reporters’ eventual disclosure of their sources actually aided in the ability of the Wilson’s to sue. “Obviously, their identifying their sources along with all of the work of the special prosecutor provided the factual basis for the lawsuit,” he said. “Some of those facts came as a result of what reporters said, some came from other places.”

The Wilson’s other co-counsel, Christopher Wolf, did not return calls seeking comment.

The suit, filed Thursday, names as defendants Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Aide Karl Rove, and former Cheney Chief Of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. It accuses the defendants of violating the Wilsons’ constitutional and other legal rights as a result of “a conspiracy among current and former high-level officials in the White House” to “discredit, punish and seek revenge against” Joseph Wilson for publicly disputing statements made by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address justifying the war in Iraq.

Chemerinsky stressed that the lawsuit seeks to hold the government officials accountable more than the reporters because they abused their power. “Government officials decided to punish Joe Wilson by revealing that his wife was a secret agent,” he said. “The government officials abused their power by revealing that highly classified information.”

When asked why the journalists who received the information, and in Novak’s case published it, were not equally culpable, Chemerinsky said their actions did not rise to the same level of abuse of power. “From the outset, the focus is on those who abused their power,” he said. “I haven’t given [the possibility of journalists being blamed] any consideration.”

When asked if reporters would be requested to provide further information, or even testify in the case, Chemerinsky declined to speculate. “I think it is much too soon to get into strategy, I haven’t been part of that discussion,” he said. “The focus has been on the legal theories of the complaint, the basis, getting it written and getting it filed.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., stems from the leaking in 2003 of Valerie Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent to several reporters. Her identity was first reported by columnist Robert Novak in a column exactly three years ago. The leak prompted an investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that led to subpoenas for several reporters, seeking their sources for the leak.

Eventually, Judith Miler of The New York Times, who spent 85 days in jail, revealed that Libby had been her source, while Matt Cooper of Time magazine revealed that Rove had been his. Novak this week acknowledged that Rove had been one of his sources, but said he had a primary source who first revealed the identity, but remained undisclosed.

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Related E&P Stories:

Ex-CIA Agent Plame Says Government Betrayed Her Trust

Robert Novak Breaks Silence About Plame Case

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