Paula Jones, without the sex story

Debra J. Saunders

7/18/2006 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame is Paula Jones -- if with national security credentials and Beltway savoir-faire. Both women filed iffy lawsuits that seemed more designed to discredit a president than to prevail in a court of law.

Jones never could prove that then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton hurt her career as a state worker after he allegedly sexually harassed her. Hence, there were no economic damages, as Judge Susan Webber Wright noted when she ruled against Jones.

The suit filed last week by Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, against Bush biggies -- Veep Dick Cheney, Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby and Bush guru Karl Rove -- is equally nonsensical. As CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin put it, "I think this lawsuit ranks somewhere between an actual lawsuit and a publicity stunt."

"She wasn't fired," noted attorney Victoria Toensing, who served in the Reagan administration. "She worked for two and a half years (at the CIA) after the revelation. Nobody fired her. She's got a book deal she would not have had."

And, I'll add, Plame's deal to write her memoirs for Simon & Schuster -- after a $2.5 million deal with Crown Publishing fell through -- is not stopping the Wilsons from making online solicitations to bankroll "counseling them for their potential witness testimony" in Libby's trial and/or their dubious lawsuit. They need counseling to testify?

At least Plame emerges with a deal to write her memoirs, whereas Jones' contribution to publishing entailed posing for Penthouse -- an odd choice for a woman who claimed to be suing Clinton to restore her reputation. Then again, Plame's photo spread in Vanity Fair didn't quite fit with her alleged desire to stay under the radar while she worked at the CIA.

Both women have played along with partisans out to damage the president. Jones aligned herself with Susan Carpenter-McMillan and other Clinton bashers. Joe Wilson stumped for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Bush's opponent.

The Left bashed Jones for enjoying her new-found fame. The Right bashes the Wilsons for the same.

There was some truth in both women's stories. Whatever did or did not follow, Jones did establish that Clinton invited her to a hotel room. As for Plame, she had a legitimate beef in complaining that Bushies outed her identity as a CIA employee -- even if the leak was not illegal. (Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's failure to prosecute the man who first leaked Plame's identity suggests the leak was not illegal. Note how Fitzgerald has charged Libby for lying to and obstructing investigators in the federal probe.)

And there is an element of fiction in both women's stories. Jones' tale about Clinton's retaliation never did hold water. If Plame's job depended on anonymity, her hubby should not have penned an op-ed piece for the New York Times.

The biggest similarity between Plame and Jones, however, is that both the Clinton and Bush administrations could have spared themselves a long legal nightmare if either one had not tried to make itself seem more virtuous than it was. Clinton should have refused to allow Jones' attorneys to depose him. If he had not lied to Jones' attorneys, Ken Starr would have had no cause to question Monica Lewinsky.

If Bush had not promised to fire anyone who illegally leaked Plame's info, or if staffers had told the media, that, yes, they had talked about Plame, but they did not realize her job was classified -- then, as one insider told me, it could have been a one-day story. Well, maybe not a one-day story, but surely not a three-year story.

That said, Bush haters are mistaken in putting Wilson on a pedestal as his lawsuit is clearly misleading. To wit, the suit cited a May 2003 New York Times column written by Nicholas Kristof about Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger to check out allegations that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Africa: "According to the column, the ambassador reported back to the CIA and State Department in early 2002 that the allegations were unequivocally wrong and based on forged documents."

Yes, that is what Kristof wrote, but the column was off. As the Senate Intelligence Committee reported, the CIA did not find Wilson's oral report to unequivocally come down against Saddam Hussein trying to procure uranium in Niger. And Wilson could not have even known about the forged documents at the time that he made the report.

Like Paula Jones with the anti-Clinton crowd, Joe Wilson always has been happy to mislead Bush haters. From the start, Joe Wilson was Paula Jones. Alas, now Valerie Plame is, too.