Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Passport-Search Fiasco: An Attempt at Candidate-Bashing Run Aground

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Passport-Search Fiasco: An Attempt at Candidate-Bashing Run Aground

Article excerpt

AS with many Washington scandals, the State Department investigation of Bill Clinton's passport files involved actions that in retrospect appear not so much illegal as heinous and stupid.

The late-night Sept. 30 search of the passport records of Governor Clinton and his mother were "heinous," says State Department Inspector General Sherman Funk, because it was clearly an attempt to find government-held information that could be used for political purposes.

It was stupid because it should have been clear to any experienced Washington political appointee that by today's ethics standards the search itself could backfire explosively. So many people were touched by the effort that it was sure to become public through news leaks, no matter what it discovered.

"These people actually walked into the National Archives to do this? Do they think the people who work in the archives are their friends, discreet civil servants like the British? Where do they come from, the planet Debbie?" asks Suzanne Garment, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of a book on Washington scandals.

The White House did not direct or order the snooping into Clinton's files, concluded the inspector general's report on the incident released Wednesday. The report determined that the highest-ranking officials involved were Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Elizabeth Tamposi, dismissed last week by President Bush, and acting Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Steven Berry, who will be disciplined but not fired.

THE report confirmed, however, that Mr. Berry routinely called Janet Mullins, an aide to James Baker III, the White House chief of staff. Inspector General Funk said that Ms. Mullins presumably knew the search was going on, but that "there is a difference between involvement and knowledge."

At one point while the search was under way, Ms. …

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