By Bill Miller
Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth H. Bacon has been accused by a conservative watchdog group of violating the Privacy Act by turning over to the New Yorker magazine information about Tripp, the Pentagon colleague of Monica S. Lewinsky who secretly taped her friend's account of an affair with President Clinton and who turned over the tapes to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
"I'm sorry that I did not check with our lawyers or check with Linda Tripp's lawyers about this," Bacon said at a briefing at the Pentagon.
Bacon's remarks came after he acknowledged in a deposition last Friday that he provided New Yorker writer Jane Mayer with the Tripp information. Bacon's deposition was given in a civil lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
Mayer reported that Tripp was arrested as a teen-ager on a felony charge of grand larceny and that she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of loitering. Using the information Bacon provided, Mayer also wrote that Tripp did not disclose the arrest, as required, in response to a question on her 1987 Defense Department security clearance form.
Bacon insisted yesterday that the White House was not involved in his decision to cooperate with Mayer and took issue with Judicial Watch head Larry Klayman's claim that the Clinton administration wanted to discredit the woman who set in motion Starr's investigation of the Lewinsky matter.
"That's been one of the major misconceptions, I think mischievous misconceptions, about this," he said yesterday. "But I spoke with nobody outside of this building and . . . no superior inside this building or outside this building about this incident until after it happened."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen later said the release of Tripp's personnel information was inappropriate, and an inspector general's investigation is underway to determine if Tripp's Privacy Act rights were violated.
A Pentagon spokesman said in March that the information about Tripp was provided by "a career government employee," and not a political appointee. He was referring to Clifford Bernath, a deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.
Although Bernath gave Mayer the information -- reportedly in response to her questions about Tripp's answers on forms -- he has said that he did so at the direction of Bacon. "I was certainly aware that he was doing it and did nothing to stop it," Bacon said in his deposition.
Bacon's deposition was part of a Judicial Watch lawsuit stemming from allegations that the FBI improperly handed over to the White House hundreds of FBI files of former Reagan and Bush administration appointees.
Klayman has alleged that the Clinton administration has a history of violating the privacy rights of perceived enemies, and maintains that the Tripp matter is a recent example.
He is also seeking to depose Mayer and recently subpoenaed her notes on at least 100 administration officials. Mayer has asked for the quashing of the subpoenas.
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