- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon Thursday was mildly reprimanded for violating the federal Privacy Act when he released confidential information from Linda R. Tripp's personnel file to a reporter in 1998.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said in letters to Mr. Bacon and his former top deputy, Clifford H. Bernath, both of whom were involved in the decision to leak the file, that their actions were "hasty and ill-conceived." He also said expressed his "disappointment" in their judgment.
"This was a departure from the very high quality of performance that you have otherwise exhibited," said Mr. Cohen. Neither letter was made a part of Mr. Bacon's or Mr. Bernath's permanent record.
Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, another Pentagon spokesman, said Mr. Cohen considers the matter closed and no further disciplinary action would be taken.
"This letter expresses his disappointment in their judgment and calls out specifically that they should have consulted with counsel, should not have been as hasty before responding to the reporter," Adm. Quigley said. "But on the other hand, it also points out there was no criminal intent … to harm Ms. Tripp."
Sen. James M. Inhofe, who criticized a Justice Department decision last month not to prosecute Mr. Bacon, Thursday called for Mr. Bacon's resignation and denounced Mr. Cohen's response as a "whitewash and cover-up."
"The law was broken and nothing is being done about it," the Oklahoma Republican said.
Adm. Quigley said a third letter went from Mr. Cohen to the director of privacy office at the Pentagon, who was directed to "re-emphasize the importance of the training to all employees … and particular emphasis on those in the Office of Public Affairs."
Last month, the Justice Department decided not to seek an indictment of Mr. Bacon or Mr. Bernath despite concerns outlined in an interim July 1998 report by the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General, which said the two men had broken the law. That decision came after Justice had held onto the report for 20 months before ruling there was "no direct evidence upon which to pursue any violation of the Privacy Act."
Acting Inspector General Donald Mancuso, who headed the probe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 3 that his office concluded Mr. Bacon ordered release of the Tripp records and that the documents were covered under the federal Privacy Act.
In his final report, made public Thursday, Mr. Mancuso said the harm to Mrs. Tripp's privacy interests caused by the release of her confidential personnel file outweighed any public benefit.
"Accordingly, the release constituted a clearly unwarranted invasion of her privacy," the report said. Mr. Mancuso added in the report that he believed the actions of Mr. Bacon and Mr. Bernath constituted a violation of the federal Privacy Act.
After the Justice Department's refusal to seek indictments, the matter was referred to Mr. Cohen to decide whether administrative sanctions were warranted.
Mrs. Tripp is the Pentagon official who blew the whistle on President Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. She and Miss Lewinsky both worked for Mr. Bacon. 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 probe focused on accusations that the Defense Department released information to the media from confidential and required forms Mrs. Tripp filed with the Pentagon. In those forms, she said she never had been arrested when in fact she had in what later was described as a teen-age prank that occurred 30 years ago.
Mr. Bacon, who later said he was sorry he did not consult the Privacy Act before authorizing the disclosure, passed the information to Jane Mayer, a reporter for the New Yorker magazine who once worked with Mr. Bacon at the Wall Street Journal. It 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.
Mr. Bacon, who normally conducts news briefings at the Pentagon, chose not to attend the session because the matter of his reprimand was sure to be brought up and he felt it was inappropriate to discuss the matter. In a written statement, he said he disagreed with the inspector general's conclusions but respected Mr. Cohen's decision.
"In this case, I have consistently maintained that the balance weighed in favor of responding to a specific question involving a public arrest record," he said. "I believe that ultimately my conduct will be found lawful."
Mrs. Tripp spurred the sex-and-lies investigation of Mr. Clinton by turning over to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr tapes she 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. The Senate later acquitted Mr. Clinton.
In her lawsuit, Mrs. Tripp named 11 current or former administration figures, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, as having "engaged in communications … about Linda Tripp."
On Wednesday, Maryland Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli dropped criminal wiretap charges against Mrs. Tripp, saying a judge's decision limiting the testimony of Miss Lewinsky had gutted his case. The judge had called the Lewinsky testimony tainted and not credible.

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