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Judge dismisses suit over CIA leak

Ex-agent sought compensation

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband against Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials over the Bush administration's disclosure of her name and covert status to the media.

US District Judge John Bates said Cheney and the others could not be held liable for the disclosures in the summer of 2003 in the midst of a White House effort to rebut criticism of the Iraq war by her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson. The judge said such efforts were a natural part of their normal job duties and thus the officials were immune from liability.

Bates stressed in his ruling that the Wilsons' allegations "pose important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials" but that he had to dismiss the claims for jurisdictional reasons, and so would not express an opinion on their merits.

The Wilsons' lawsuit said that Cheney, his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, senior White House adviser Karl Rove, and a former deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, violated the couple's privacy and constitutional rights by participating in discussions that led to Plame Wilson's identity being publicly revealed. They said the leaks to reporters were an illegal effort to retaliate against Wilson, and that they ruined Plame Wilson's chances for career advancement and were meant to harass the couple.

Plame Wilson's identity was disclosed in a syndicated column in July 2003, days after Wilson publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence he had gathered for the CIA.

The disclosure led to a lengthy leak investigation that found Libby, Rove, and Armitage had all disclosed classified information about Plame Wilson's CIA employment to reporters and that Cheney had told Libby about it while instructing him to seek out reporters to rebut Wilson's allegations.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to a grand jury and FBI agents investigating the leak, and was sentenced last month to 2 1/2 years in prison. President Bush commuted Libby's sentence earlier this month, eliminating the prison time. No one was charged with the crime of intentionally disclosing her covert identity.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and one of the Wilsons' lawyers, said yesterday that they expect to appeal the ruling.