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Privacy Act does not cover White House

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Apr 12, 2001    

Privacy Act does not cover White House

  • Four of the women mired in Clinton scandals failed to convince a federal court that the Executive Office of the President violated their privacy if it provided information about them.

In cases brought by Linda Tripp, Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones, federal judges have each found that the White House is not an agency covered by the Privacy Act and that it did not violate anyone’s rights if it gave out information on the women.

The four women charged that the Executive Office of the President improperly gave out information about them to the media. The federal district court in Washington, D.C., in March rejected each of their individual claims under the Privacy Act.

Judges Emmet Sullivan, Henry Kennedy and Colleen Kollar-Kottelly all found that a longstanding precedent excusing the White House Office from compliance with the FOI Act applied to the Privacy Act as well. The four women brought their cases individually.

Linda Tripp, one-time friend of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky who publicized the later’s relationship with President Bill Clinton, sued the Executive Office of the President, the FBI and the Defense Department after public affairs officials confirmed details in Tripp’s record for a New Yorker reporter. Tripp claimed that she suffered from harassment and “loss of professional reputation” from their disclosures.

Sullivan ruled that her complaint against the Executive Office of the President was really only against the White House Office which he said is immune from Privacy Act litigation. However, other parts of that lawsuit are still proceeding.

Kennedy reached a similar decision in the cases brought by Flowers and Broaddrick, both of whom claimed that the White House maintained records on them for the purposes of attacking or threatening them. Kollar-Kottelly made a similar ruling in the Jones case. Flowers, Broaddrick and Jones were represented by Judicial Watch counsel Larry Klayman.

The decisions differ from one reached last year when a federal district judge ruled that aides to the president violated the Privacy Act when they retrieved letters written by former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey. The aides released the letters to the news media after Willey appeared on “60 Minutes” where she accused the President of unwanted sexual advances. That case was brought by Judicial Watch, not Willey.

The U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Cir.) refused a government effort to quickly reject the district court decision for fear that the government would be laboring under the threat of criminal prosecution. The appeals court said a review of the Willey case could proceed routinely with the White House free to continue its consideration that it was not subject to the Privacy Act.

(Tripp v. EOP; Flowers v. EOP; Broaddrick v. EOP; Jones v. EOP; Counsel: Larry Klayman, Washington; Stephen Kohn, Washington, D.C.) RD

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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