A federal court on Thursday ruled the FBI must release most of its interview with Vice President Dick Cheney about the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity.
Cheney agreed to the 2004 interview with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the aftermath of CIA agent Valerie Plame's public outing. That investigation has long since concluded, but both Bush and Obama administration officials have since requested that the interview remain sealed, arguing that its publication would only deter future presidents and vice presidents from cooperating with criminal investigators.
Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan disagreed, and he ruled on Thursday that most of the 67 pages of interview notes could be made available for public scrutiny. However, in a major blow to challengers, Sullivan did permit White House officials to withhold any information deemed essential to national security — including, perhaps, any content related to Cheney's communication with CIA officials, the president and Ambassador Joe Wilson, Plame's husband.
After learning about the decision, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — which filed Thursday's lawsuit — praised the court's ruling, though it expressed dissatisfaction with the national security exceptions the court granted.
"Judge Sullivan rightly rejected a Justice Department interpretation of
the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] that would have allowed the government to withhold virtually
any law enforcement record even where an investigation has long since
been concluded,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.
"We are disappointed, however, that the judge allowed DOJ to withhold portions of some records because the American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity. High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view," she added.
The Plame scandal has all but faded from public memory, but it commanded headlines in 2003 and 2004. It was rumored that high-level Bush administration officials leaked the CIA operative's name after her husband criticized the administration's pre-Iraq war intelligence.
An investigation later revealed that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's top aide, had leaked the name to reporters. Libby was indicted in 2004 for perjury and obstruction of justice, but he was later pardoned by the president and spared a jail sentence.