In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, accused Cheney, Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of revealing Plame's CIA identity in seeking revenge against Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq.
Several news organizations wrote about Plame after syndicated columnist Robert Novak named her in a column on July 14, 2003. Novak's column appeared eight days after Wilson alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.
The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger in early 2002 to determine whether there was any truth to reports that Saddam Hussein's government had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger to make a nuclear weapon. Wilson discounted the reports, but the allegation nevertheless wound up in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.
The lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby, Rove and 10 unnamed administration officials or political operatives of putting the Wilsons and their children's lives at risk by exposing Plame.
But since, Plame and her husband have not necessarily kept a low profile, CBS News' Jennifer Miller reports. They've appeared in a Vanity Fair article, attended the White House correspondents' dinner in April and met Thursday with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
"This lawsuit concerns the intentional and malicious exposure by senior officials of the federal government of ... (Plame), whose job it was to gather intelligence to make the nation safer and who risked her life for her country," the Wilsons' lawyers said in the lawsuit.
The appearances, allegations and lawsuit might make for great political fodder, but they could also open up a complex court battle, CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.
Read Plame's court filing (23 pages).
"The complaint doesn't read like a frivolous attempt to shakedown administration officials in order to get an apology or a large payday," Cohen said. "Wilson and Plame assert that the defendants violated their constitutional rights and caused them damage in a number of ways when they leaked Plame's name to reporters. It won't be an easy case at all to win for the plaintiffs but it's not a slam dunk for the defense either."
Specifically, the lawsuit accuses the White House officials of violating the Wilsons' constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of speech. It also accuses the officials of violating the couple's privacy rights.
CBS News reports that Rove's legal team has already come back with a statement.
"It is clear that the allegations are absolutely and utterly without merit," said Rove spokesman Mark Corallo. "We may comment further when we've had a chance to review the complaint."
Libby is the only administration official charged in connection with the leak investigation. He faces trial in January on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about when he learned Plame's identity and what he subsequently told reporters.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald told Rove's lawyer last month that he had decided not to seek criminal charges against Rove.
The lawsuit alleges that Cheney, Libby and Rove used Plame to punish Wilson for his public statements about the administration's portrayal of the intelligence on Iraq.
"As their chief method of punishment, the White House officials destroyed (Plame's) cover by revealing her classified employment with the CIA to reporters," the lawsuit said.
The White House is avoiding a reaction to the Plame-Wilson lawsuit, reports CBS News correspondent Peter Maer. Spokesman Tony Snow said, "No comments on lawsuits, real or contemplated."
Instead of confronting Wilson on the issue, the lawsuit said, the White House officials "embarked on an anonymous 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit ... (the Wilsons) and to deter other critics from speaking out."
According to court filings in Libby's case, Cheney played a key role in a White House effort to counter Wilson's charges.
Cheney cut out Wilson's New York Times article and scribbled on it, "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an ambassador to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"
Libby told a grand jury that Cheney was so upset about Wilson's allegations that they discussed them daily after the article appeared. "He was very keen to get the truth out," Libby testified, quoting Cheney as saying, "Let's get everything out."
Any court proceedings will likely be political as well as legal, Cohen said.
"An early line of defense will be that the defendants have immunity from such lawsuits. Another line of defense will no doubt involve the assertion of executive privilege," he said. "It has the makings of being a long and nasty battle both in and out of court."
The charges against Libby grew out of conversations he had with three reporters: former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC's Tim Russert.
A key aspect of Libby's defense is whose memory is accurate: Libby's or the reporters'.