Tripp sues administration officials; Lewinsky's ex-friend says Clinton loyalists invaded her privacy


WASHINGTON -- Linda Tripp, who ignited the scandal that nearly brought down President Clinton with her secretly recorded tapes, struck back at her enemies yesterday by filing an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the White House and the Pentagon.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that officials loyal to Clinton sought to embarrass and smear Tripp by "engaging in communications" about her and disclosing the contents of confidential "personnel files, FBI files, security files and other government records" of the former White House, now Defense Department employee.

Tripp is seeking unspecified damages against 11 past and present administration figures. Among them are first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey, and former Clinton aides Sidney Blumenthal, Harold Ickes and Mickey Kantor.

The complaint also names Pentagon public affairs chief Kenneth H. Bacon and his former aide, Clifford Bernath, who have acknowledged disclosing to the media that Tripp had failed to report in her security file a 1969 arrest in New York.

Tripp, 49, said that, "for partisan political purposes," she was subjected to "harm to [her] reputation and emotional distress and humiliation."

In July, Tripp was indicted by a state grand jury in Maryland on two felony charges related to her secret taping of her telephone conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Tripp, who said her prosecution was inspired by the Clinton White House, has pleaded not guilty and continues to work at the Pentagon as a $90,000-a-year public affairs specialist.

She occasionally phones in sick because of stress, according to associates.

White House spokesman Jim Kennedy declined to comment on Tripp's suit. Pentagon officials would not comment until a still-confidential inspector general's report on the actions of Bacon and Bernath is made public.

Tripp, once a confidante of Lewinsky, secretly tape-recorded phone conversations in which she encouraged Lewinsky to discuss her affair with Clinton. Tripp took the information to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

Tripp later testified before Starr's federal grand jury.

Tripp's lawsuit is vague about alleged actions by Mrs. Clinton and other current or former White House officials, except to say that they violated federal civil rights statutes and the Privacy Act of 1974 by engaging in conversations and disclosing confidential information to humiliate her and destroy her credibility as a witness in the Lewinsky investigation.

The complaint noted that Tripp's file was among hundreds of security files of Republican appointees improperly obtained by the White House from the FBI at the start of the administration in 1993. The White House action was investigated by the Senate and Starr's office for several months in a case sometimes dubbed "Filegate," but no criminal wrongdoing was found.

Tripp's lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a Republican appointee who is overseeing a 2-year-old complaint filed on behalf of Tripp and others whose FBI files were examined by the White House.

That complaint was initiated by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization.

The Judicial Watch complaint notes that Pentagon officials released potentially damaging information about her from her personnel folder weeks after she had blown the whistle on the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship.

Responding to a request from a reporter for New Yorker magazine, Defense officials disclosed that Tripp, in an apparent violation of reporting rules, had failed to tell her superiors about her arrest in upstate New York when she was a teen-ager.

In a deposition to Judicial Watch lawyers, Bacon said that he regretted allowing the disclosure without determining whether it constituted a violation of the federal Privacy Act. "I wish I had asked the question about the Privacy Act," Bacon testified.

Tripp was arrested on suspicion of theft of $263 in cash and a $600 watch. She claimed the items were planted in her handbag by friends as part of a teen-age prank. The case was resolved in a plea bargain when Tripp pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of loitering.

Her suit was the third filed by a person caught up in Lewinsky-related media coverage.

Julie Hiatt Steele is suing Newsweek magazine for publishing what she says were off-the-record comments about Clinton's alleged advances against her one-time friend, Kathleen Willey.

Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, called as a witness in the Lewinsky investigation, has filed a $30 million defamation suit against Internet columnist Matt Drudge, for posting an item saying Blumenthal beat his wife. Drudge later retracted it.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/28/99

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