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Obama disappoints with 'comedian' exception for Cheney notes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 21, 2009 - A federal judge decided last Thursday to inspect notes of an FBI interview with Vice President Dick Cheney concerning the Valerie Plame leak. Judge Emmet Sullivan made the decision after Obama Justice Department lawyers argued against releasing notes that could embarrass former presidents and vice presidents on late night comedy shows such as the "The Daily Show."

The Justice Department position is the latest disappointment for liberals upset that the Obama administration has blocked release of torture photos, argued against releasing White House visitor logs and continued to argue for that some information should be kept under wraps under a state secrets privilege.

In the Plame case, Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Smith argued that future presidents and vice presidents won't cooperate with criminal inquiries if they know their words will be subject to ridicule.

"If we become a fact-finder for political enemies, they aren't going to cooperate," Smith said. "I don't want a future vice president to say, `I'm not going to cooperate with you because I don't want to be fodder for 'The Daily Show'."

Sullivan has pressed the Justice Department to come up with better reasons for withholding the information, which was sought by the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  The group says the information should be available under the Freedom of Information Act, but the government says that information collected as part of a criminal investigation should not be public.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former aide, was the only person convicted in the leak of Plame's identity as a CIA operative. His prison sentence was commuted by former President George W. Bush.

Libby told the FBI in 2003 that it was possible Cheney ordered him to leak Plame's identity to reporters. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said at Libby's trial that there was a "cloud" over Cheney's role. Fitzgerald told Congress that Cheney set no conditions on the use of his interview with investigators.

Meanwhile, on the torture photos, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had told him that the photos wouldn't "see the light of day." If Congress doesn't pass a law forbidding their disclosure, the president will issue an executive order to that effect, Graham said.

“Every photo would become a bullet or IED used by terrorists against our troops,” Graham said.

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Previously, he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years, serving as assistant Washington Bureau Chief and deputy editorial editor. He covered the U.S. Supreme Court while in Washington. He is a graduate of Kirkwood High School, Stanford University and Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.

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