Will Paula Jones force Dick Cheney to testify on Plame?

A new lawyer for the Wilsons says he'll use Clinton precedent to force Cheney, Rove and Libby to testify.

Published August 16, 2006 1:28PM (EDT)

A new trial lawyer for Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame says he intends to use precedent set during Paula Jones' lawsuit against Bill Clinton to argue that Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove must testify in the civil suit against them.

It all seems like a nice bit of "what comes around goes around," but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. In holding that Clinton had to testify in the Jones case, the Supreme Court stressed the pretty well-settled distinction between the immunity federal officials enjoy with respect to their "official" acts and the immunity they don't get for "unofficial conduct." Whatever happened between Jones and Clinton while he was the governor of Arkansas fell well outside of even the "outer perimeter of the president's official responsibilities," the court said.

Even assuming that someone other than the president is entitled to such broad immunity, we think most federal judges would look pretty skeptically at an argument that the Plame case is like the Jones one. The alleged harassment of and retaliation against a woman, occurring before the alleged harasser and retaliator was even in the White House? That's pretty clearly outside the scope of the defendant's "official duties" as a federal official. Responding to criticism of the president's war by leaking the identity of a CIA agent? Heinous or not -- and you know how we feel on that point -- it's going to be hard to persuade a judge that these actions weren't within the scope of official duties for Cheney, Rove and Libby.

So maybe Joseph Cotchett finds a way to get the Bush Three on the stand -- as the lawyer who won a $3.3 billion verdict in the Lincoln Savings & Loan case, the Wilsons' new attorney clearly knows something about what he's doing -- but we're betting the Paula Jones case won't be it. That's not to say that memories of Clinton's legal woes won't linger over the case, however: Dick Cheney has just lawyered up for the case by hiring Emmet Flood, a partner at Williams & Connolly who worked on Clinton's impeachment defense team.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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