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lawyer plans to force Cheney, Rove testimony

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES, Aug 15 (Reuters) - A lawyer plans to use a legal precedent that allowed President Bill Clinton to be sued while in office to force Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove to testify in a lawsuit brought by former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband.

California attorney Joseph Cotchett said he will ask a federal court to order Cheney, his ex-chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Rove to testify in depositions about their role in disclosing her classified status.

The civil lawsuit accuses them and others of conspiring to publicly identify Plame as a CIA agent to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for writing in an op-ed piece that the Bush administration twisted intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Cotchett, who took over as trial counsel in Plame's case on Tuesday, said legal precedent for whether Cheney and the others could claim legal immunity in the case comes, in part, from Paula Jones' sexual harassment case against Clinton.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling that neither Clinton "or any other official has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity."

In order to be dismissed from the case or avoid testifying, Cotchett said, lawyers for Cheney and the other men would have to argue that they were acting on government business if they are found to have leaked Plame's name to the media.

Federal law makes it a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert agent.

A hearing on motions to dismiss the case and on immunity for the defendants are expected in a month or two, Cotchett said.

The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Washington, came after Libby's indictment last October on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in an ongoing federal investigation into who leaked Plame's identity to the media in 2003. He is so far the only person criminally charged in the case.

The CIA-leak case flared after Wilson accused the administration of leaking his wife's name to the media after he criticized the government in a New York Times opinion piece.

Rove was also named as a source by conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first revealed Plame as a CIA operative.

Cotchett, a longtime Democratic Party supporter and legal adviser, is best known for winning a $3.3 billion jury verdict in a case involving the failure of Lincoln Savings and Loan in the 1980s.

Court documents show that Cheney has hired Emmet Flood, a lawyer from Clinton's impeachment defense team, to represent him in the Plame case.

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