Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson have lined up Christopher Wolf [PHOTO LEFT], a top attorney in D.C., to prepare “to file a civil lawsuit against the Bush administration officials who disclosed her identity and scuttled her career,” writes Salon.

If Joe and Valerie do sue, says Salon, they’ll be the first to depose White House officials since Paula Jones. The couple will wait to decide on a lawsuit until Fitzgerald announces his decisions on indictments.

About the case, Wolf says, “There is no question that her privacy has been invaded. She was almost by definition the ultimate private person … Suffice it to say, they have been substantially damaged, economically and personally.”

Wolf, a partner at Proskauer Rose, is considered a pioneer in a Internet law and electronic privacy. His specialties list includes employment discrimination, director and officer liability, libel, defamation, privacy, and much more.

What I’m gleaning from the Salon article is that it is Wolf who is Joe and Valerie’s neighbor, who Wilson has described previously only as an attorney — and you may also recall this anecdote — who stepped out on his back deck, and, seeing a stricken Wilson outside, expressed concern about the column that he’d just read by Bob Novak.

More from the story below:

Wilson, who could not be reached by Salon for comment for this story, wrote in “The Politics of Truth” that his wife was “crestfallen” when she discovered that syndicated columnist Robert Novak had disclosed her identity as a CIA “operative.”

“She would never be able to regain the anonymity and secrecy that her professional life had required; she would not be able to return to her discreet work on some of the most sensitive threats to our society in the foreseeable future, and perhaps ever,” he wrote.

In some ways, the Paula Jones case clears the way for a lawsuit by Plame and Wilson. In 1997 the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision giving the green light to Paula Jones’ lawsuit against Clinton, despite the fact that he was a sitting president. The court ruled that Jones’ allegations, which involved personal conduct during Clinton’s years as a governor, were not protected by any claims of executive immunity. After much legal wrangling, Clinton finally settled with Jones in 1998 for $850,000, though he offered neither an apology nor an admission of guilt. (Clinton’s top lawyer in that case was Robert Bennett, who is representing New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the CIA leak investigation.)

However, there is one constitutional defense that senior White House officials, or at least Bush, could attempt to use. In a 1982 case, Nixon v. Fitzgerald (no relation to the current special prosecutor), the Supreme Court found, in a split decision, that a president enjoys “absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.” It is not clear whether this immunity extends to the vice president or senior White House aides, or if the White House could claim that discussions of Plame’s identity should be viewed as an “official act.”

Most likely, the White House would try to litigate any civil case in the court of public opinion. …

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