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Department of Defense ordered to release Linda Tripp records

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Mar 10, 2000    

Department of Defense ordered to release Linda Tripp records

  • The agency has 20 days to release records showing how a reporter obtained information from Linda Tripp’s personnel records.

A federal District Court March 7 gave the Department of Defense 20 days to release any records showing how New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer received information from the personnel records of Linda Tripp, one-time friend of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky who made public Lewinsky’s relationship with the president.

Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that Judicial Watch, an organization that has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records about President and Mrs. Clinton’s activities, is entitled to see records showing how DOD may have violated the Privacy Act in releasing records about Tripp. He allowed the watchdog group to subpoena records created after its initial request.

Lamberth made particular reference to a letter from the defense agency’s FOI Act officer Les Blake to Jay Willer of the Government Accounting Office, noting that Blake had been criticized by Department of Defense Security Service Director Margaret Munson for creating a record of a request for information from Tripp’s security clearance form by a DOD public affairs officer.

Blake said Munson had called the matter a “very serious issue” that could involve the president’s impeachment.

In a deposition by Judicial Watch attorneys, DOD public affairs officer Clifford Bernath testified in April 1998 that, after discussion with his supervisor and in response to a request from the reporter, he obtained information Tripp had provided about former arrests and convictions from employment and clearance forms in agency files.

DOD had withheld the Blake letter, saying it was not responsive to Judicial Watch’s request. It claimed that the records were exempt under the law enforcement exemption because of an “ongoing” investigation.

Lamberth called DOD’s claim that the Blake letter was not responsive “incredulous.” He said the agency’s “excessive parsing” of the request called its good faith into question. He also derided the agency for continuing to call the investigation of the disclosures “ongoing.” He said the court found it “impossible to fathom how an internal investigation into such a simple matter” could take almost two years.

The case involving the Tripp records grew out of another case Judicial Watch has brought claiming that Privacy Act records on former Reagan and Bush appointees were improperly released by the FBI. .

(Alexander v. FBI)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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