Plame Judge: 'Outing' Just Part of the Job
None of us should be surprised that a federal trial judge Thursday tossed out a civil lawsuit brought against current and former Bush administration officials by Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, the man whose op-ed column about yellowcake in Africa started us all down this merry road to ruin.
The law is set up precisely to quickly and efficiently take down these sorts of claims and causes; to provide in extraordinary breadth and depth legal immunity to public officials, even sleazy ones; and to make it as difficult as possible for people like the Wilsons, or people like you and me, to successfully challenge in court bad acts and bad actors of our government. Even the unhappy couple, the plaintiffs, can't be surprised that they lost-- and surely they figure they won't prevail on appeal.
But what did surprise me, and what ought to surprise you, is the part of U.S. District Judge John D. Bates' 41-page body slam of a ruling where he declares that the "underlying conduct" of the defendants-- Vice President Dick Cheney, his former deputy and current pardoned felon, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, fabled political operative Karl Rove and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (the actual leaker of the name) -- was so close to the recognized scope of their duties that they deserve to find solace within the boundaries of Congress' benevolent immunities. If that isn't defining integrity down, I don't know what is.
Here is what Judge Bates wrote:
[T]his Court must look beyond the alleged disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's covert identity and assess whether the underlying conduct was of the type defendants were employed to perform. The proper inquiry in this Court's view, then, is whether talking to the press (or, in Cheney's case, participating in an agreement to do so...) in order to discredit a public critic of the Executive Branch and its policies is within the scope of defendants' duties as federal employees.
The alleged means by which defendants chose to rebut Mr. Wilson's comments and attack his credibility may have been highly unsavory. But there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism, such as that levied by Mr. Wilson against the Bush Administration's handling of prewar foreign intelligence, by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level Executive Branch officials. Thus, the alleged tortious conduct, namely the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's status as a covert operative, was incidental to the kind of conduct that defendants were employed to perform.
For those of who still believe that the intentional disclosure a covert operative was and is against the law, this snippet from the Bates' ruling probably has you scrambling around walls. Surely the judge is not suggesting that criminal conduct is covered by immunity when its purpose happens to sync with the regular political duties and responsibilities of powerful government officials. Surely he didn't meant to diminish into the category of "highly unsavory" conduct by our highest ranking public servants which was monstrous at best and illegal at worst.
The lessons here? The White House savages its enemies all the time; the Congress explicitly and implicitly endorses and protects the odious conduct in the name of "immunity"; and the courts are unable or in this case unwilling to do anything about it. It's no surprise that the Plame-Wilson lawsuit got tossed. But it is jarring to read the ugly yet sanctified rationale for its demise.
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