Reprinted from The Washington Times , 5am -- May 22, 1998
Pentagon's Bacon 'sorry' about Tripp leak, says he acted on his own
By Bill Sammon and Paul Bedard
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Assistant Defense Secretary Kenneth Bacon said Thursday he's sorry he did not check with Linda Tripp's attorneys before leaking information from her personnel file to a reporter.
He said he was not following instructions from the White House.
"In retrospect, I'm sorry that the incident occurred," Mr. Bacon told a Pentagon briefing. "I'm sorry that I did not check with our lawyers or check with Linda Tripp's lawyers about this."
Mrs. Tripp is the Pentagon employee who tape-recorded Monica Lewinsky's accounts of a sexual relationship with President Clinton. Miss Lewinsky was Mr. Bacon's aide-de-camp after working at the White House as an intern.
Asked whether the White House ordered the leak, Mr. Bacon said: "Absolutely not. That's been one of the major misconceptions -- I think, mischievous misconceptions -- about this."
He said he spoke with "no superior inside this building or outside this building about this incident until after it happened," which was on March 13.
Since then, Mr. Bacon said, he has "had extensive discussions" with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen about the Tripp leak. He declined to say whether he has offered Mr. Cohen his resignation or has been reprimanded.
Asked whether he still has Mr. Cohen's full confidence, Mr. Bacon said: "I'm here. And the secretary's view is that we should let [the inspector general] do her work."
The Pentagon inspector general has been asked by Mr. Cohen to investigate the leak. Mr. Cohen is believed to be generally pleased with Mr. Bacon's job performance, but he has said Mrs. Tripp's personnel information "was supposed to be protected by the privacy rules" and called its release "certainly inappropriate, if not illegal."
Thursday, White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry suggested there would be some kind of punishment of those involved in the Tripp leak once the Pentagon probe is completed. "I think that they have to establish over there the factual record and then it's going to have to be dealt with and I don't want to say anything more than that," he said.
Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Thursday cited Mr. Clinton's 1992 charge that Bush administration officials had rifled his passport file. At the time, Mr. Clinton promised if there were similar privacy violations in his administration, "you will not have an inquiry or rigmarole or anything else. If I catch anyone using the State Department like that when I'm president, I'll fire them the next day."
Mr. Nicholson said: "President Clinton should keep his word and fire Bacon for violating the Privacy Act."
Asked about that pledge, Mr. McCurry said Thursday, "There's no need for the White House to look into it, because the inspector general at the Pentagon is looking into it." He told reporters to wait "until the inspector general's report had been concluded."
Mr. McCurry said he and Mr. Bacon discussed the leak before their separate press briefings Thursday. Asked whether the White House had ordered the leak, Mr. McCurry said: "I can say that that is not the case."
Mr. Bacon was asked for the Tripp file by Jane Mayer, a reporter for the New Yorker magazine who had once worked with him at the Wall Street Journal. Although she uses her maiden name, Mayer, in her byline, she asked that she be identified in newspaper accounts as Mrs. Hamilton because she is married to William Hamilton, the national editor of The Washington Post.
She told Mr. Bacon she had information that Mrs. Tripp had been detained by police as a teen-ager in 1969 and had denied the arrest when she filled out a Pentagon form in 1987.
Although Mr. Bacon said he cited the Privacy Act to Mrs. Hamilton, he nevertheless asked several Pentagon officials for this information. His principal deputy, Clifford H. Bernath, went to some lengths to obtain the desired form, in the process setting off alarm bells in the Pentagon's office on Privacy and the Freedom of Information Act.
On March 13, Mr. Bernath took the form to his boss, who read it and approved its release.
"I said, 'This looks like it's the form,'" Mr. Bacon recounted in a May 15 deposition to Judicial Watch, a legal-advocacy foundation. "And [Mr. Bernath] said, 'I guess that we can tell her we got the information.' I said, 'I guess we can.'"
Asked by Judicial Watch director Larry Klayman whether he instructed Mr. Bernath to make sure the release would not violate the Privacy Act, Mr. Bacon replied: "Unfortunately, I did not."
He said: "Looking back on it, I wish I had asked the question about the Privacy Act. But I did not."
Citing Mrs. Tripp's denial of the arrest, Jane Hamilton raised questions about her credibility in a profile published by the New Yorker. But in the following days, it became clear that Mrs. Tripp's arrest had been little more than a teen-age prank gone awry. Attention shifted away from the 29-year-old incident and onto the Pentagon's decision to leak the information.
Mrs. Hamilton discounts the importance of the leak. "He answered a question when I called him up and asked," she said. Whether Mr. Bacon was breaking the law "never crossed my mind," she said. "My job was to get the information."
She compared the publication of Mrs. Tripp's personnel information to the New York Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers, which were also leaked.
Mrs. Hamilton, who has been subpoenaed by Judicial Watch over the leak, called a story on the topic in Thursday's editions of The Washington Times a "piece of [foully odoriferous sewage]" and criticized a reporter for "making such a stink over how people get their information."
"You've spent all this time trying to figure out whether Ken Bacon broke a law," Mrs. Hamilton said. "I haven't seen you spend any time on Linda Tripp. Did she break a law?"
Mr. Bacon's distribution of the Tripp information appears to contradict a pledge he made in March 1996 to Sen. Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
"I will continue to ensure that the release of information is consistent with the provisions of applicable statutes, executive orders and Department of Defense directives and instructions," Mr. Bacon said. "Our goal is to release all useful information, unless specifically exempted by law, national security requirements, or privacy considerations."
Copyright 1998 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of
The Washington Times.
To subscribe to the Washington Times National Weekly Edition, click this icon or call 800-363-9118.
Back to Electric America's front page