WASHINGTON - Lawyers for Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and two other Bush administration officials belittled Valerie Plame Wilson's lawsuit yesterday over the disclosure of her identity as a CIA officer.
At a court hearing that lasted nearly three hours, Cheney's lawyer said Wilson was making "fanciful claims" in what amounted to "a fishing expedition."
Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by Cheney and his since-convicted former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as well as by Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, and former State Department official Richard Armitage.
Her suit is "principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals," said Michael Waldman, who represents Armitage.
Wilson's attorney, Erwin Chemerinsky, countered that the case was "about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman's career."
Several administration officials, including Armitage, Rove and Libby, disclosed Wilson's identity to reporters in 2003, after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Evidence at Libby's trial showed that Cheney told Libby about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment more than a month before she was outed.
U.S. District Judge John Bates questioned both sides closely. "Why would these government officials have any kind of protection for these disclosures" about Valerie Wilson's classified CIA status? he asked.
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all the defendants, said there was no allegation that any knowingly disclosed classified information.
The Justice Department has asked Bates to drop an invasion-of-privacy count in the suit because government officials cannot be sued personally for such claims when acting in their official capacity.
Bates asked, "There is nothing these officials could have said that could go beyond the scope of their employment?"
Not in the context of the Valerie Wilson matter, Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Bucholtz replied. What the suit alleges, he said, amounts to a government policy dispute in which the defendants tried to discredit Joseph Wilson.
Chemerinsky responded that the scope of employment ends where the outing of Valerie Wilson's CIA identity begins.
To pursue their effort to collect compensation, her lawyers must show that Cheney and the other defendants are not immune from such lawsuits.