Linda R. Tripp yesterday filed a civil lawsuit accusing the White House, Defense Department and 99 "John and Jane Does" of orchestrating a campaign to leak embarrassing and confidential information about her in retaliation for her cooperation last year with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
Tripp's 27-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, portrays her as a whistle-blowing government employee who had a public duty to aid Starr's office in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation. The suit maintains that officials at the Defense Department, where Tripp worked, conspired with White House operatives to undermine her credibility with the American public.
According to the suit, Tripp has been subjected to "extreme public embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, ridicule" and other abuses, including a loss of income. She seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
The lawsuit comes at a time when Tripp is facing her own legal problems. In July she was indicted in Maryland on charges of illegal wiretapping stemming from her taped telephone conversations with Lewinsky. Her supporters contend the criminal charges are baseless and politically motivated.
The lawsuit alleges that a host of unidentified people working in the executive office of the President undertook a search for damaging information about Tripp once she emerged as a potential witness against Clinton. These "John and Jane Does" allegedly violated her civil rights by coming up with ways to leak confidential materials kept in FBI and personnel files.
The suit cites an unflattering profile about Tripp that appeared in the New Yorker magazine soon after the Lewinsky scandal became public. The article, "Portrait of a Whistle-blower," reported that Tripp was arrested as a teenager on a felony charge of grand larceny and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of loitering. It reported that Tripp did not disclose the arrest, as required, in response to a question on her 1987 security clearance form.
The Pentagon's chief spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, later acknowledged that he had provided the magazine's reporter with information gleaned from the security clearance form. Bacon has said he acted along with Clifford Bernath, one of his deputies, and that the White House wasn't involved. Tripp accused Bacon, Bernath and others of violating her privacy rights.
Bacon was out of town yesterday and Bernath did not return a telephone message. W. Neil Eggleston, an attorney who represents the White House, declined to comment. The Defense Department had no immediate response. Tripp, who continues to work for the Defense Department, declined to comment through her attorneys.
The lawsuit does not say who at the White House allegedly sought to discredit Tripp. But one section maintains that numerous current and former officials engaged in discussions about her, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Stephen M. Kohn, one of Tripp's attorneys, said he hopes to take depositions from numerous White House officials to further develop the case.