Former CIA operative and Trump critic Valerie Plame runs for Congress

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame has decided to run for the Democratic nomination to an open congressional seat in New Mexico, taking on an already crowded field in a heavily Democratic district in the northern part of the state.

Plame told The Associated Press on Thursday that she wants to give back to a community that welcomed her after leaving Washington.

Plame, who lives in Santa Fe, became a national figure after her identity as a CIA operative was leaked by an official in President George W. Bush's administration in an effort to discredit her then-husband, diplomat Joe Wilson.

Former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators following the 2003 leak and pardoned by President Donald Trump.

Plame said she doesn't take the pardon personally, describing it as a "transactional" move by Trump to signal his support for people who might protect him from investigation.

"Libby's pardon had nothing to do with me," Plame said. "It had everything to do with saying to his (Trump's) cronies that you take care of me, I take care of you."

Six-term U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján won't seek re-election to the 3rd Congressional District as he runs for U.S. Senate in 2020. Sen. Tom Udall has announced he won't seek a third term.

Candidates actively pursuing the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District seat include state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, Santa Fe-based attorney Teresa Leger and former Navajo Nation presidential and vice presidential candidate Dineh Benally. Santa Fe-based District Attorney Marco Serna is weighing whether to run. The seat was previously held by Udall and former Democratic Governor and United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson.

Plame said that her role with the CIA on nuclear security issues first brought her to New Mexico and its federal weapons research laboratories. She was enthralled by the area's natural beauty and made it her home in 2007.

The 55-year-old author and professional lecturer recently organized a conference on espionage in Santa Fe called "Spies, Lies and Nukes" that she hopes to replicate around the country.

"I have not been planning to go into politics at all," said Plame, describing the decision behind her first run for elected office. "My twins are off at college now. I have the time and the ability to see if I can do this. It's a way of giving back. This community has welcomed me very warmly."

Outlining early themes of her campaign, Plame said she wants to help Congress expand private health care access and rein in prescription drug prices. Northern New Mexico relies heavily on federally subsidized Medicaid insurance, with rates of unemployment and childhood poverty that exceed nearly all states.

Asked if she would accept political contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, Plame said, "I don't plan to. ... that doesn't seem like something that I would be interested in at this point."

The primary election is likely to be decisive in the heavily Democratic and Hispanic district that traverses several Native American communities, such as the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache nations and indigenous pueblos from Tesuque to Taos, and includes Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Broad concerns about Trump also are on Plame's political agenda.

"Trump has been a humiliation as president," Plame said. "I would try to mitigate some of the damage that his has caused our nation."