WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday that the FBI must publicly reveal much of its notes from an interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney during the investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative.
Cheney agreed to be interviewed by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in June 2004 during the investigation of the leak of Valerie Plame's identity after her husband publicly criticized the Bush administration. Both the Bush and Obama administrations said they wanted to keep the interview confidential because future presidents, vice presidents and their senior staff may not cooperate with criminal investigations if they know what they say could became public.
But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled there was no justification to withhold the entire 67 pages of FBI records documenting Fitzgerald's interview since the Plame leak investigation has concluded. He said that limited parts could be withheld to protect national security and private communications between the president and vice president.
The Justice Department told Sullivan in a hearing this summer that if he ordered the documents released, they would appeal and seek to withhold them until the matter is resolved. The Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling Thursday.
Plame's identity was leaked to news organizations after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq in 2003.
The leak touched off a lengthy inquiry that led to Cheney's former top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, being convicted on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators. During his trial, jurors found that Libby lied to the FBI and a grand jury about his conversations with reporters. Then-President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence, and Libby never served prison time.
Libby was the only person charged in the case. No one was charged with leaking Wilson's name.
Libby told the FBI in 2003 that it was possible that Cheney ordered him to reveal Plame's identity to reporters. The prosecutor in that case, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, said in his closing remarks at Libby's trial that there was a "cloud" over Cheney's role in the case.
In July 2008, the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Justice Department seeking records related to Cheney's interview in the investigation. The Justice Department said there were two sets of notes taken by FBI agents during the interview and a report summarizing it, but declined to turn over the records. CREW filed a lawsuit in August.
CREW executive Melanie Sloan said in a statement that the group hopes the Obama administration will reveal the entire record in the interest of transparency.
"The American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson's covert identity," Sloan said. "High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view."
The Justice Department said the documents were exempt since they were part of a law enforcement matter and their release could interfere with future cases. They said the White House not cooperate if they know what they say could become available to their political opponents and late-night comics like those on "The Daily Show," who would ridicule them.
They also said the interview contained classified material and that presidential communications were shielded to allow candor with the president and his advisers.