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Tripp Sues White House, DoD

Linda Tripp filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against the White House and the Defense Department, alleging they used confidential records to smear her reputation, reports CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein.

Tripp claims she has been subjected to extreme public embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety and ridicule and she wants the Clinton administration to pay, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante.

She is seeking an unspecified amount of money for "harm to reputation and emotional distress and humiliation." But her lawyer says it's not really about money.

"For a full year she was the brunt of negative jokes, very negative campaigns. What we now know, some of that campaign was orchestrated from the executive branch of the United States government accessing documents which they should not have accessed and which is completely illegal," said Tripp's attorney, Stephen Kohn.

The lawsuit contends the White House and the Defense Department violated her privacy. But Tripp still works for the Defense Department, which makes her case problematic.

Kohn charges that personnel, FBI and security files were "unlawfully disclosed" in the political fall-out from the investigation and impeachment of President Clinton.

"What we have are admitted illegal activity, illegal leaks, which were in violation of the law," Kohn told CBS Radio News.


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Tripp is targeting two Pentagon officials in this suit: Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon and his former deputy, Cliff Bernath. The leaked story involved a shoplifting arrest that occurred when Tripp was a teen-ager.

"We know of two specific actions in which confidential information was illegally distributed to the press in an attempt to discredit her, and that's an actual civil and criminal violation," Kohn said.

The lawsuit says the alleged smear campaign started after Tripp brought Monica Lewinsky's affair with Mr. Clinton to light. Tripp secretly recorded phone conversations with the former White House intern. The tapes triggered Kenneth Starr's criminal investigation of the president.

"When she blew the whistle, when she provided information about what was in fact a conspiracy to commit perjury, there was an effort to discredit her," Kohn said. "We will use the discovery process to get to the full extent of the harassment."

But Jonathan Turley of George Washington University says the case may not be able to undo the damage.

"It's not clear because representational inury to a public figure is a weak case to bring to a federal court. Ultimately, Tripp may be disappointed and it may be thrown out. Even if she's successful, in the end, I doubt it will give her everything she really wants," he said.

She still faces charges in Maryland in a state court for taping conversations with Lewinsky. That charge is inspired by the White House, she says. The White House has no comment.