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Judge rules White House violated privacy of Kathleen Willey

March 29, 2000
Web posted at: 2:07 p.m. EST (1907 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that President Bill Clinton "committed a criminal violation" of the privacy rights of Kathleen Willey by releasing private letters in an attempt repudiate accusations by the former White House volunteer that the president had made an unwanted sexual advance toward her.

Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that "the President had the requisite intent for committing a criminal violation of the Privacy Act" when the White House released correspondence from Kathleen Willey to President Clinton.

The letters were released in March 1998, the morning after Willey appeared on the CBS program "60 minutes" and alleged that the president made an unwanted sexual advance while the two were in a private room adjacent to the Oval Office in 1993.

Clinton has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. White House aides said they released the letters to cast doubt about Willey's allegations, saying the letters showed she remained friendly with Clinton after the alleged incident.

Lamberth ordered White House lawyers to answer questions they previously refused to answer in a legal challenge brought by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which has filed numerous lawsuits against the Clinton administration over the past seven years.

Three top White House aides -- Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey, former Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and former Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills -- recommended that the letters be released, and Clinton "concurred in these recommendations" despite being aware of the Privacy Act, the judge said.

"Plaintiffs have clearly established that the White House and President were aware that they were subject to the Privacy Act and yet chose to violate its provisions," Lamberth ruled.

The White House was reviewing the ruling today and had no immediate comment.

Lamberth's ruling comes as part of Judicial Watch lawsuit over the White House gathering of hundreds of FBI background files on Republican appointees. The judge granted the group latitude in examining whether the White House regularly gathered and released damaging information about its political opponents.

As part of the process, the conservative group was allowed to ask extensive written questions about the release of the Willey letters even though Willey is not a party to the suit. Presidential aides refused to answer some of those questions, prompting Lamberth's ruling.

The White House maintains "that the president did not act willfully because the Department of Justice has, in the past, taken the position that the White House office is not subject to the Privacy Act," the judge noted.

CNN's Bob Franken and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
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