The chairman of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee has asked Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to severely discipline department spokesman Kenneth Bacon for leaking information to the media from Linda R. Tripp’s confidential file.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support, said Mr. Cohen should “act swiftly and in accord with the seriousness of this matter.”
“Federal employees throughout the government are watching this case,” said the Oklahoma Republican in a floor speech Monday. “What will it say to them if someone who has so clearly violated the Privacy Act is not held accountable?
“It will say that no one’s privacy can ultimately be protected, that the law is largely meaningless, and that ideal of public service in support of the Constitution and the laws is forever diminished,” he said.
Last month, the Justice Department decided not to seek an indictment of Mr. Bacon in the case despite concerns outlined in a July 1998 Defense Department investigation that suggested he had broken the law.
The decision came after the Justice Department had held onto the report for nearly 20 months before ruling there was “no direct evidence upon which to pursue any violation of the Privacy Act.”
Acting Defense Department Inspector General Donald Mancuso, who headed the inquiry, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 3 that investigators concluded Mr. Bacon had ordered release of the Tripp records and they were covered under the federal Privacy Act.
Mr. Inhofe noted in his speech that the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Mr. Bacon included the statement that he did not intend to break the law when the information was released to the media.
“What this tells me is that the Justice Department knows the law was broken. It is all the more reason why their decision not to prosecute is so outrageous,” he said. “The next time I’m stopped by a policeman for speeding, I’m going to tell him I didn’t intend to break the law and let’s see how far that gets me.”
Mr. Inhofe said Mr. Bacon “clearly violated the Privacy Act” and “simply cannot be permitted to escape responsibility.”
After the Justice Department’s refusal to seek an indictment, the matter was referred to the Defense Department, where Mr. Cohen will determine whether administrative sanctions are warranted.
Mrs. Tripp is the Pentagon official who blew the whistle on President 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 probe 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 never had been arrested when in fact she had in what later was described as a teen-age prank that occurred 30 years ago.
The Pentagon leak was orchestrated by Mr. Bacon, 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. 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.
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.
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, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, as having “engaged in communications … about Linda Tripp.”