In a Beltway version of "Garbo Talks," former CIA operative Valerie Plame spoke out Friday -- exactly three years after her cover was blown in a newspaper column -- saying she felt betrayed by her government and believed that those involved "must answer for their shameful conduct in court."
A day after she and her husband sued Vice President Dick Cheney and others for conspiring to leak information about her employment, Plame offered her first public comments about the case since her identity was revealed by columnist Robert Novak in a July 14, 2003, article.
She spoke for less than a minute and took no questions. But in a quiet, measured tone, Plame expressed her dismay at having been thrust into the spotlight by "a few reckless individuals within the current administration."
"I would much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than be a plaintiff in a lawsuit," Plame, 43, said to reporters before a phalanx of cameras. "But I feel strongly, and justice demands, that those who acted so harmfully against our national security must answer for their shameful conduct in court."
The disclosure, which led to a special counsel investigation and the indictment of former Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, exposed Plame's secret resume working for a CIA department tracking weapons proliferation, and led her to resign from the agency last year.
Plame and her husband, former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, sued Cheney, Libby and President Bush's top political advisor, Karl Rove, alleging that their actions violated the couple's constitutional rights. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks unspecified financial damages. Wilson and Plame have said they plan to give any money they recover beyond their legal bills to charity.
Novak's column was published eight days after Wilson wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times accusing the Bush administration of twisting pre-war intelligence about Iraq. The lawsuit charges that Cheney and the others, by plotting to leak Plame's name, violated her and Wilson's personal privacy and free-speech rights under the Constitution.
"If the administration officials believed Ambassador Wilson was wrong to criticize, they could have addressed the issue substantively and on the record, speaking for attribution and publicly," Christopher Wolf, a lawyer for Wilson and Plame, said at the news conference.
"Instead ... the defendants engaged in a secret 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit or, as Special Counsel [Patrick] Fitzgerald has put it, to 'punish' Ambassador Wilson," Wolf said. "Ambassador Wilson had a right to speak out without his wife's career being destroyed and without his family's privacy being invaded and their personal safety put in jeopardy."
Through a spokesman, Rove has called the charges meritless. Cheney and Libby have declined to comment.
"We are under no illusions about how tough this fight will be," Wilson said at the briefing. "But we believe the time has come to hold those who use their official positions to exact personal revenge accountable and responsible for their actions."