- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

The Justice Department held up action for 20 months on a Defense Department investigation of the release of Pentagon employee Linda R. Tripp's personnel file before deciding not to seek an indictment, despite concerns that the law had been broken.

Acting Inspector General Donald Mancuso told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday he turned over his report in July 1998 after an extensive investigation, and was advised last week by the Justice Department there was "no direct evidence upon which to pursue any violation of the Privacy Act."

Mr. Mancuso, under questioning by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, acknowledged that the probe had concluded that Defense Department spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon ordered release of documents from Mrs. Tripp's file that were covered under the federal Privacy Act.

Asked by Mr. Inhofe if the release of the records was illegal, Mr. Mancuso said: "I think the facts show that information was released by Mr. Bacon and it related to Linda Tripp and those were the basic conclusions of our report."

"Someone needs to be held accountable in this matter. The law has been broken and there is clearly an ongoing cover-up," Mr. Inhofe said. "In Watergate, people went to jail for these kinds of violations of the law. Somebody should probably go to jail here."

At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley confirmed that the inspector general's report had been submitted to the Justice Department, and that the department had decided against prosecution in the case.

Adm. Quigley told reporters during the Pentagon's afternoon briefing that the report has since been returned to the Defense Department, whence it was sent to Mr. Bacon and Pentagon employee Clifford Bernath for comment.

"The tentative findings of the DOD inspector general have now been provided to both parties in the investigation. They've been offered an opportunity to provide further comment," he said. "When those comments are back in the IG's hands, if they choose to do so, they would then consider those as part of the final report, and then send that on to the secretary."

Adm. Quigley said he expected the process to be completed by the end of the month. The inspector general's office had been asked by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to investigate the leak.

Justice Department spokesman John Russell said the inspector general's case was reviewed by lawyers in the department's criminal division, who made a determination that they would not prosecute the matter. He said this finding was sent to the Defense Department, but he declined further comment.

In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton accused Bush administration officials of rifling through his State Department passport file and promised at the time that if anyone did something similar in his administration, he would "fire them the next day."

Mr. Bacon was traveling Thursday in the Middle East with Mr. Cohen and was unavailable for comment. Mr. Bernath was out of town Thursday and also unavailable for comment.

Mrs. Tripp is the Pentagon official who first blew the whistle on Mr. Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Mrs. Tripp has since filed a lawsuit accusing the White House and the Defense Department of using confidential Pentagon records to smear her reputation.

The inspector general's investigation focused on accusations that the Defense Department released information to the news media from confidential and required forms Mrs. Tripp filed with the Pentagon. In those forms, she said she had never been arrested when in fact she had in what later was described as a teen-age prank that had taken place 30 years ago.

The Pentagon leak was orchestrated by Mr. Bacon, a Clinton appointee who later said he was sorry he did not consult the Privacy Act before authorizing the disclosure.

The information was passed to Jane Mayer, a reporter for the New Yorker magazine who once worked with Mr. Bacon at the Wall Street Journal, and was used for a damaging story on Mrs. Tripp's background at a time Miss Lewinsky's relationship with Mr. Clinton had become a major public issue.

Mrs. Tripp had spurred the sex-and-lies investigation of Mr. Clinton by turning over to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr tapes she had secretly recorded of conversations with Miss Lewinsky, who had been transferred from the White House to the Pentagon.

Both Miss Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton acknowledged having a sexual relationship, which led to the president's impeachment by the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Mr. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.

The actual leak of Mrs. Tripp's security clearance form to the New Yorker came from Mr. Bernath on March 13, 1998. At the time, Mr. Cohen called the leak "certainly inappropriate, if not illegal" because Mrs. Tripp's file "was supposed to be protected by the privacy rules."

Mr. Inhofe said that since the Justice Department had declined to prosecute in the case, "the ball is now squarely in Secretary Cohen's corner."

"It is his job to ensure some semblance of justice in this case," he said. "Like in so many other cases, the American people simply can no longer trust the decisions of the Clinton administration's sad excuse for a Department of Justice."

Before the Lewinsky scandal broke Jan. 21, 1998, Mrs. Tripp headed the Defense Department's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), which teaches influential Americans about the military.

After the uproar created by the Lewinsky scandal, Mrs. Tripp worked out an arrangement with the Pentagon that allowed her to work at home.

Mrs. Tripp, in her lawsuit, said the disclosures were designed to spread "embarrassing or damaging information … for partisan political purposes."

She named 11 current or former administration figures first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House officials Bruce Lindsey, Cheryl Mills, Lanny Davis, Rahm Emanuel, Paul Begala, Ann Lewis, Lanny Breuer, Sidney Blumenthal, Harold Ickes and Mickey Kantor as having "engaged in communications … about Linda Tripp," although it does not describe them as defendants or claim they made unlawful disclosures.

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