Last week when former CIA agent Valerie Plame announced she was running for the Northern New Mexico U.S. House seat currently held by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a former colleague of mine posted an interesting observation on Facebook.
“Be interesting to see her in the same room with Liz Cheney if she wins,” he said.
Indeed, that would be interesting.
For those who don’t follow Congress that closely, Liz Cheney is a Republican congresswoman who happens to be the daughter of the gruff but (un)lovable former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Plame and Daddy Dick have a history … which is why we know Valerie Plame in the first place.
In February 2002, the CIA sent Plame’s then-husband Joe Wilson — a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe — to another African nation, Niger, to investigate a claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to buy enriched “yellow cake” uranium. He concluded the story was false. The next year, he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times accusing the Bush administration of exaggerating the threat of Iraq to justify going to war.
Soon after, White House officials informed some journalists, including the late right-wing nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak, that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and this somehow constituted some sort of conflict of interest. Novack used that information as a basis for a column that basically outed Plame as a CIA agent.
Bush State Department official Richard Armitage eventually admitted that he was the one who told Novak. But the only one convicted of any crime in this case was I. Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who was found guilty of four counts, including obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators. He was sentenced in 2007 to 30 months in prison.
Before he left office, Bush commuted Libby’s sentence (though he kept in place the $250,000 fine imposed by the court).
Last year, President Donald Trump granted Libby a full pardon for his crimes.
When I interviewed Plame on the day of her announcement, I told her of my friend’s Facebook comment. She laughed, then said of Liz Cheney, “Let’s just say I’m not a fan.”
Then she pointed out that there’s serious scuttlebutt that the Wyoming congresswoman is considering running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mike Enzi, who recently announced he won’t be seeking re-election.
“If that’s the case, then I probably wouldn’t be running into [Cheney] all that much,” Plame said.
Plame certainly isn’t bashful about reminding people about the controversy that turned her into a (reluctant) public figure.
Her candidacy announcement started off with a quote from her saying, “My career in the CIA was cut short by partisan politics, but I’m not done serving our country. We need more people in Congress with the courage to stand up for what’s right. …” And the announcement went on to acknowledge that she’s “best known as the covert CIA operations officer who was illegally outed by the Bush administration in 2003. …”
Later in the news release, Plame noted that she and her family moved to Santa Fe the day after Libby was convicted.
“My work with the CIA often took me to Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs, and when my career in national security intelligence was ended prematurely, through no fault of my own, there was only one place my heart wanted to be — Santa Fe,” she said in the news release.
Sure, Plame also talked about the “high cost of health care and prescription medicine” in her announcement. And I have little doubt that Dem cliches about “the working families” and “the children” will creep into her rhetoric as the race wears on. But emphasizing her role in a major Bush-era controversy is only likely to help her in a Democratic primary.
And remember, the Democratic Party in the 3rd Congressional District is where the race is really decided.
There’s been grumbling among some Democrats that Plame “isn’t from here” and, more specifically, that she’s not Hispanic. We haven’t heard the word “carpetbagger” yet, but we will. That also was a complaint about Bill Richardson in the early ’80s before he went on to win a congressional seat that he held for umpteen terms.
So far, there is no competition for Plame as far as name recognition goes. At this early stage of the game, I’d have to call her the front-runner.
Still, I hope Liz Cheney doesn’t run for that Senate seat.