- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Pentagon officials violated Linda Tripp's privacy rights, and Defense Secretary William Cohen is so put out over it that he intends to give the culprits a firm tap on the wrist. Apparently he didn't want to overdo it with a slap. No one's going to break the law on Secretary Cohen's watch, no sir.

The punishment follows an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general which concluded that Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon and an aide broke the law when they released confidential personnel files to a New Yorker reporter (and former colleague of Mr. Bacon's) who was out to undermine her credibility. They did so notwithstanding warnings from the official overseeing the personnel files that they could be used for official use only, not for political or other unofficial purposes.

For breaking the law, Mr. Cohen has sent the two officials a letter of reprimand saying they should have known better. But he's not going to put the reprimand in their files. Anything goes, apparently, when Linda Tripp is involved.

Mr. Bacon's wrongdoing is just one part of Mrs. Tripp's political persecution, part of which came to an unceremonious and embarrassing end this week. Maryland prosecutors, who filed criminal charges against her for taping phone conversations she had with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, have finally dropped them, ending a nightmare that began only after Mrs. Tripp sought to tell the truth amid a sea of lies.

Those tapes, of course, confirmed the sexual relationship Miss Lewinsky had with President Clinton, a relationship he denied under oath and in front of the American public. At the time, Miss Lewinsky was pressuring Mrs. Tripp to lie, too. Attorneys for Paula Jones, who had accused Mr. Clinton of sexual harassment, were trying to show a pattern of wrongdoing. Showing the president had a habit of pressuring female subordinates like Miss Lewinsky for sex would help substantiate Miss Jones' accusations against him.

Within days after Mrs. Tripp gave the tapes to Mr. Starr in January 1998, Maryland Democrats mounted pressure on state prosecutors to charge her with taping a conversation without the consent of both parties something that Maryland rarely pursued in the courts.

Not even a grant of immunity from Mr. Starr immunity that should, for all practical purposes, have shielded Mrs. Tripp from state prosecution could temper the pressure to persecute her. Writing on the op-ed page of The Washington Times last December, Mark Levin (president of the Landmark Legal Foundation) and Arthur Fergenson (a former assistant U.S. attorney and now a Maryland lawyer) quoted the applicable U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding self-incrimination and immunity. "We hold that the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination protects a state witness against incrimination under federal as well as state law and a federal witness against incrimination under state as well as federal law."

Thus, Maryland was compelled to honor the immunity Mr. Starr granted Mrs. Tripp unless the state could prove its case without relying upon any of the immunized testimony Mrs. Tripp offered. In Mrs. Tripp's case, this was a practical impossibility because prosecutors would have to demonstrate that the testimony of their star witness, Miss Lewinsky, was completely independent of Mrs. Tripp's testimony.

Earlier this month, Howard County Judge Diane O. Leasure finally ordered much of Miss Lewinsky's testimony suppressed, noting that the former intern was prone to lying and that she was "bathed in impermissible taint" because of her access to immunized testimony.

Thus, a politicized criminal prosecution that should never have begun, collapsed, as predicted. Justice is not yet done though, not while Mr. Bacon and others are free to violate Mrs. Tripp's rights with impunity.

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