Valerie Plame: The Bush Equivalent of Paula Jones?

What do Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson have in common? Both men slipped through the fingers of the criminal justice system, only to get their comeuppance in civil court.

I only mention that because yesterday's developments in the CIA leak investigation are just the beginning -- not the end. No matter how many senior administration officials end up getting indicted, the real damage to this administration may come not from criminal convictions -- if any -- but from a civil action currently being planned by Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.

There's important history here. In case you've forgotten, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, for all his diligence, (some would call it obsessive diligence)  couldn't pin a thing of consequence on the Clintons until right-wing lawyers convinced Paula Jones to file a civil suit against Clinton. That case set loose a sequence of events that were cheered by conservatives out to get Clinton, but are now likely to be keeping them awake at nights.

Remember, it was the Paula Jones case that established that a private citizen can sue a sitting President. After that, President Clinton had to give sworn depositions to Jones' lawyers. By then the Lewinsky scandal was making headlines. Since Jones' case alleged sexual misconduct by Clinton, her lawyers quickly added it to their discovery wish list. Clinton was sworn in and asked if had he ever "had sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky…?" Scuffing the ground like the bad little boy he'd been, he lied to them.

That's how getting a hummer in the Oval Office became a crime. Because Clinton lied about it in a civil case, he was slammed with a perjury charge.

WASHINGTON -- July 29, 1999) -- A federal judge has ordered President Bill Clinton to pay $90,686 for giving false testimony in the civil sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright's office issued the fine Thursday. She had held the president in contempt of court in April, ruling that Clinton intentionally gave false testimony during his deposition in Jones' suit. Clinton did not elect to fight the ruling, agreeing instead to pay the court $1,202 for expenses associated with a deposition and for "reasonable costs incurred by plaintiffs" as a result of his actions.
After that, Jones's attorneys had Clinton by the short hairs. He couldn't afford to get caught lying twice in the case, especially with the Lewinsky matter heating up -- as was his wife, Hillary -- which meant he couldn't afford to tell the truth either. So he settled the case, agreeing to pay Jones $850,000 to go away.

And so it came to pass that what Ken Starr could not accomplish (with nearly $60 million taxpayer dollars), a handful of right-wing lawyers -- plus a gal from an Arkansas trailer park -- did in civil court. Their civil case set in motion a sequence of events that got a sitting president impeached.

And here we are again. Only Valerie Plame is no Paula Jones. Jones was a Tonya Harding sans ice skates. Valerie Plame has spent the last couple of decades in the service of her country as a undercover CIA agent, often overseas and exposed to genuine danger.

Her husband, Joe Wilson, also served his country, without stain, as a U.S. Ambassador to several countries. A diplomat from 1976 to 1998 during both Democratic and Republican administrations, he served in various diplomatic posts throughout Africa and eventually as ambassador to Gabon. He was the acting ambassador to Baghdad when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In 2003, Wilson received the Ron Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling from the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute.

Valerie's CIA service, by all reports, was flawless and honorable, as was Joe's. They will be going toe to toe with individuals who have been shown to have "misstated" intelligence to justify war. Joe went to Niger and reported that there was no yellow cake deal. The administration said there was. They have been proven dead wrong -- Wilson has been proven right.

When the Wilsons file their civil suit, they will allege that senior Bush administration officials conspired to maliciously invade Valerie's privacy, destroying her career and exposing her and her family to genuine danger for purely political purposes. Joe will likely allege that they slandered and libeled him as part of a concerted conspiracy to discredit his accurate findings from his mission to Niger, thereby damaging his future career options.

By the time this case goes to trial a year or so from now, who do you think a jury is likely to believe?

Legal experts are already debating whether the Wilsons have a case. These are some of the same legal experts who thought Paula Jones' case was going to get laughed out of court. Who knows, they might be right this time.

But the Wilsons' case will not end quickly, however it goes. Win or lose, there will be lots and lots of motions, depositions and days in court. The Jones case wound its way all the way up to the US Supreme Court, leaving a trail of embarrassing disclosures every inch of the way. 

Soon after the Wilsons' case is filed, subpoenas will start arriving at the homes and/or offices of the President, Vice President, Rove, Libby, Tenet, Rumsfeld and others involved in the cooking of intelligence justifying the war. Sworn depositions will follow as images of Bill Clinton dancing a mocking jig in their heads.

That's why I say, the worst -- or best --  may be yet to come.

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