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Pair who released details about Tripp won't be prosecuted


WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has decided not to prosecute two Pentagon officials over the release of information from Linda Tripp's personnel file, officials said yesterday.

Justice notified Pentagon Deputy Inspector General Donald Mancuso last week that it would take no action against Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon and his former deputy, Clifford Bernath, for possible violations of the federal Privacy Act, Mancuso told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Tripp, a Columbia resident, spurred the impeachment of President Clinton with her secret taping of Monica Lewinsky.

Bacon has acknowledged instructing Bernath to release information from Tripp's private personnel file to a reporter for The New Yorker in March 1998.

Bacon later said he regretted allowing the disclosure without talking to attorneys or finding out if it violated the Privacy Act.

Mancuso told senators that he sent his preliminary findings on Bacon and Bernath to the Justice Department in summer 1998, although details of that report have not been released.

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican on the committee, scolded the Justice Department for taking 20 months to respond to the Pentagon report.

"There was something that merited Justice's attention in that report," said Susan Hansen, spokeswoman for the inspector general.

She declined to be more specific.

A Justice Department spokesman did not return a phone call.

The New Yorker reported that Tripp had been arrested on suspicion of theft charges as a teen-ager but did not reveal that on her Pentagon security clearance form. She later said that items were placed in her purse as part of a prank and that the case was resolved when she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of loitering.

Tripp filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit last fall in U.S. District Court in Washington against the Pentagon and the White House, charging that officials released the information in retaliation for her cooperation with independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Her suit named 11 officials, including Bacon and Bernath.

Tripp, who continues to work for the Defense Department, faces trial this summer in Maryland on illegal wiretapping charges for secretly recording her phone conversations with Lewinsky.

Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that both Bacon and Bernath will have a chance to comment on the IG's findings this month before a final report is sent to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. Cohen will decide on any punishment, said Mancuso.

In ordering the investigation in 1998, Cohen said releasing the information was "certainly inappropriate, if not illegal."

Inhofe blasted the Justice Department for not prosecuting.

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