WASHINGTON ― Valerie Plame hasn’t lived in Washington, D.C., since 2006, after a George W. Bush administration official blew her cover as a covert CIA officer in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of the motives behind the Iraq War.
But she’s ready to be back in Washington now, this time as a member of Congress.
Plame announced Thursday that she’s running as a Democrat for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who is running for Senate. She’s been living in Santa Fe ever since she left behind the chaos of the mid-2000s, after her then-husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a bombshell New York Times op-ed in 2003 claiming that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat” ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Plame’s identity was soon leaked to the press, which effectively ended her 20-year career with the CIA. After a high-profile investigation and congressional hearings on the leak, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence before he ever reported for prison, and President Donald Trump pardoned him in 2018.
“I want to serve my country again,” she said in a Thursday phone interview. “It’s not something that I had been pondering or secretly thinking was a good idea. My twins just left for college. It’s a new chapter in my life.”
Since leaving Washington, Plame, 55, has written two spy novels and a memoir, “Fair Game,” that was made into a major motion picture starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. She’s also been doing volunteer work, including serving nearly 10 years on the board of the United Way of Santa Fe County, which focuses on early childhood education.
Like virtually every Democrat running for Congress, Plame, 55, said health care costs and the economy are her priorities. But she also knows all kinds of things we’ll never know about national security from her years of being part of secret CIA operations ― she “managed top-secret covert programs designed to keep terrorists and rogue nation states from acquiring nuclear weapons,” according to her website ― and she understands firsthand the “fairly bruising political madness” that can erupt in Washington.
She said she’s thinking “very carefully” about the prospect of impeaching Trump. Given how much time and energy impeachment hearings would suck up in Congress, she thinks it makes more sense for House Democrats to instead focus on advancing policies they care about and letting voters decide in 2020 if they want a new president.
She’s already tried to remove Trump from one of his high perches: Twitter. In 2017, she started a GoFundMe campaign to buy a majority stake in Twitter to kick Trump off of the network because, she argued, he emboldens white supremacists and encourages violence against journalists. She hit only $89,000 of her $1 billion goal.
Plame said she sees parallels between the way the Trump administration and the Bush administration have undermined constitutional values.
“As difficult and challenging to the American value system as the Bush administration was, in particular Cheney’s view of the world, I find Trump to be completely beyond the parameters of what is accepted…. In fairness, we saw that creeping first under the Bush administration on many levels, but let’s just start with enhanced interrogation techniques,” she said. “For Trump, as awful as he is, he’s really just a symptom, not a cause.”
I want to serve my country again. Valerie Plame
Plame sparked controversy in 2017 when she retweeted and initially defended an anti-Semitic article arguing that American Jews are pushing for war in Iran. She soon deleted her tweets and apologized, saying she didn’t read the article thoroughly and was trying to make the point that it was a mistake to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. But mounting criticisms led to her quitting Twitter altogether and resigning from a board position at the nuclear-disarmament nonprofit Ploughshares Fund.
Asked what that was all about, Plame said, “It was a deeply distressing time for me. It’s not who I am. It’s not what I believe. I sincerely and genuinely apologized.”
She said she has no plans to rejoin Twitter, even as a congressional candidate.
“Having thoughtful, nuanced discussions about complex issues should not take place on Twitter or a forum that ― how many characters are you allowed? ― that limits discussion,” said Plame. “It’s so vicious and ugly. … It’s certainly not how the people of northern New Mexico talk to each other.”
For now, she plans to hit the road and listen to what constituents in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District care the most about. Her primary is probably going to get crowded; this district is solidly Democratic, and congressional vacancies rarely open up in the state.
HuffPost asked if she planned to use her CIA skills to dig up dirt on her opponents. Plame did not laugh.
“That’s my old life; I can’t talk about that. All I get to do is run my race. In the end, I want to say I did the best I can do, with integrity and grace.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Scooter Libby served time in jail. His sentence was commuted before he could.