A federal judge Thursday ordered the Justice Department to make public large portions of statements made by then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney to federal investigators about the Valerie Plame case.
Ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by a public interest group, the judge dismissed government objections to withholding FBI reports and notes, which describe an interview of Cheney by a special prosecutor. The government had argued that it could withhold the records because their release might chill cooperation by White House officials in future investigations.
At one point, the Justice Department argued that future officials might not want to talk to investigators if they knew that such interviews might "get on 'The Daily Show' " or be used as a political weapon.
But U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the government's argument was too vague to justify withholding the documents under the public information laws.
The Justice Department cannot "describe with any reasonable degree of particularity the subject matter of the hypothetical proceedings, the parties involved, when such proceedings might occur, or how the information withheld here might be used by the hypothetical parties to interfere with these hypothetical proceedings," the judge wrote.
To properly withhold the records, the judge said, the Justice Department would have to show that the release of information contained in the Cheney reports would harm a future investigation. He cited an appeals court ruling in 1993 that the Justice Department could withhold records involving Nazi war crimes. Though no specific Nazi-related investigations were pending, the information sought in that case was likely to be used in "reasonably anticipated" future prosecutions, the appeals court held.
That is not the case with the Cheney records, Sullivan wrote.
However, the judge agreed with the Justice Department that certain "limited information" can be withheld that involves national security matters, personal information or communications between Cheney and former president Bush.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sought the records under the Freedom of Information Act last year.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, said, "Overall we are very pleased that the judge did not accept an interpretation of FOIA that would have allowed the government to withhold law enforcement records in virtually every case."
She added that the group was disappointed that the judge is allowing the Justice Department to withhold some aspects of the records. Weismann said the redacted portions of the documents are probably "the most revealing."
A spokesman for the Justice Department, Charles Miller, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
The judge ordered that the documents be turned over by Oct. 9. CREW wanted documents describing Cheney's interviews with Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004 as part of the special prosecutor's probe of the Bush Administration's leak of Plame's links to the CIA.
Plame was a covert CIA officer until her name appeared in the press after public criticism by her husband, Joe Wilson, a former diplomat, of the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq. Cheney was never charged with any wrongdoing, but his former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and perjury in the probe. Bush later commuted Libby's 2 1/2-year prison sentence but refused the vice president's request that his former chief of staff be pardoned.