A federal judge brought the Plame show to a close yesterday, throwing out a lawsuit brought by Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson against several government officials, including Dick Cheney. The judge ruled that the officials named could not be sued for the conduct of their officials duties -- and noted that those duties included responding to public criticism:
A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband against Vice President Cheney and other top officials over the Bush administration's disclosure of Plame's name and covert status to the media.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said that 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 Joseph C. Wilson IV. The judge said that such efforts are a natural part of the officials' job duties, and, thus, they are immune from liability.
"The alleged means by which defendants chose to rebut Mr. Wilson's comments and attack his credibility may have been highly unsavory," Bates wrote. "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."
In other words, Joe Wilson should have minded his wife's status from the beginning. If anyone should have been sued, Valerie should have named Joe at the top of the list. Instead, Joe had to grandstand after getting the assignment through the efforts of his wife that led to his star turn as Bush administration critic. There's nothing new about that; we've made that argument all along.
If the judge had allowed it to go to trial, though, it still wouldn't have succeeded, because the actual leak in this case came from Richard Armitage, not Libby or anyone at the White House. In a civil suit, the damage has to come from the defendants, and no one could argue with a straight face that Armitage would have done Cheney's or Libby's bidding. The discovery that Armitage gave the information to Robert Novak should have closed the criminal investigation, and it should have mooted this particular suit, unless the Wilsons amended it to replace Cheney and Libby with Armitage. He did the actual damage, to the extent damage occurred at all.
But the Plames didn't file this suit to recover from actual damages. They filed the suit to continue their status as darlings of the Left. It's hard to imagine that Joe Wilson could have acquitted himself on the stand well enough to keep the lawsuit from getting dismissed on the merits, even if it had survived on jurisdiction. Any cross-examination would have established his credibility as at near zero, and the case would have dissipated. The judge did them a favor; now they can claim judicial martyrdom, and their supporters have another cause to decry.