During a May 2004 interview with FBI agents investigating how the name of former CIA officer Valerie Plame, was made public, Vice President Dick Cheney said he had "no idea" who may have leaked her name, according to Justice Department documents released Friday.
The investigation was launched after the late columnist Robert Novak identified Plame in a July 14, 2003, column about administration claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. Plame's husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, had been dispatched to Niger to investigate the possible uranium connection.
In July 2003, Wilson in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, said there was no credible evidence that Iraq had attempted to obtain the banned materials from Niger, and he criticized the White House for "twisting" evidence implicating Iraq.
The column triggered a firestorm that lead to charges that someone in the Bush administration illegally blew Plame's cover in retaliation for the column.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the matter later that year.
Cheney's chief of staff Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby, was convicted in March 2007 on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and of lying to the FBI about what he knew about the Plame case.
The documents were released Friday after a lawsuit was filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), following a Freedom of Information Act request.
The FBI interview report notes that Cheney, after reviewing Wilson's column in the New York Times, said "[it] was his sense that it was 'amateur hour' out at the CIA. According to the article, Wilson claimed that he'd been sent on assignment by the CIA, directly implying that it was done at the request of the vice president. Moreover, Wilsons [sic] fact-finding mission did not appear to be up to professional trade-craft standards."
The released document is a summary of the Cheney interview prepared by FBI agents. One aspect of the FBI probe dealt with reports that Wilson's trip to Niger was the idea of his wife.
In the interview, according to the summary, Cheney told the FBI that "it was not a big deal" that Plame was involved in sending her husband on the Niger trip until after the Novak article. According to the document, Cheney "does recall at one point 'gigging' [CIA Director George] Tenet and or [Deputy CIA Director] McLaughlin..about vetting a separate, unrelated intelligence matter by sarcastically suggesting to them that perhaps they ought to send Joe Wilson to check it out."
The report notes on a handful of occasions that Cheney could not recall information. The FBI interview summary notes that Cheney said, "In handling press inquiries regarding Joe Wilson, it is conceivable that he tasked Scooter Libby with this responsibility."
During litigation to release the documents, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan expressed concern about DOJ's argument that the White House will be unwilling to cooperate with future criminal investigations if the interview was released.
In court proceedings, the Justice Department had initially argued to keep the documents under seal, supporting the continued secrecy of the investigation of what Fitzgerald called at the time a "dark cloud" over Cheney during Libby's trial.
A spokesman for Fitzgerald declined to comment on the documents released Friday night.
The Justice Department decided not to appeal Sullivan's ruling on releasing the documents, paving the way for their release Friday.