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Former Official Helped Write Capitol Hill Query on Clinton

By Guy Gugliotta
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Steven K. Berry told investigators he was "raised" on Capitol Hill, but helping a congressman hunt for dirt on Bill Clinton cost him his job as an assistant secretary of state and helped blacken the eye of the State Department.

The department Thursday told the independent Office of the Special Counsel that it was forwarding materials for a possible civil suit under the 1939 Hatch Act, which could charge that Berry unlawfully facilitated a search of Clinton's passport files during the election campaign, Associate Special Counsel William Reukauf said.

But since Berry as a political appointee will leave the department in January when the Bush administration departs, it is unlikely that a Hatch Act case, whose strongest penalty is dismissal, could be carried to a conclusion, knowledgeable legal sources said.

Still, the Clinton passport file search and Berry's role in it dramatically illustrate how appointed officials can tempt fate when their duties give them an opportunity to score points for a partisan cause.

It was Berry who in late September helped Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) draft a request to search State Department files for a purported Clinton letter renouncing his U.S. citizenship or seeking information on dual citizenship. Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Elizabeth M. Tamposi was fired earlier this month for her role in the affair, while Berry was relieved of his duties but allowed to remain in the department.

The Hatch Act, intended to keep middle- and low-level civil servants away from partisan politics, says "an employee in an executive agency . . .may not use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election."

In investigating the passport affair, Sherman M. Funk, the State Department's inspector general, found Berry "probably in violation" of the Hatch Act, but unable to "draw the flat conclusion that Mr. Berry was fully aware of the inappropriateness of his actions," according to Funk's report released Wednesday.

Berry, a longtime congressional staff member, had become acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs when his boss, Janet G. Mullins, went to the White House last summer with former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Berry, the inspector general's report said, maintained strong ties with both Mullins and his former associates on Capitol Hill.

"As Mr. Berry noted, he was `raised on the Hill,' " the report noted. "Mr. Berry stated that his job was to maintain a close relationship with Congress, and he related he had discussed, gossiped and speculated about the Clinton matter... "

Among the items piquing congressional interest in the early fall, the report said Berry told investigators, was "what might be in the (State) Department's files concerning Gov. Clinton."

Solomon "in particular," was interested, the report said. A tough-talking ex-Marine, Solomon had an abiding interest in the methods public figures had used to escape the draft as young men. He had known Berry since the days when Berry served as minority staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Solomon was a member.

Solomon wanted to get into Clinton's passport records, the report said, and "Berry freely admitted that he assisted Solomon in writing a letter to Tamposi as "the person best able to respond."

The report said Tamposi told investigators that Berry on Sept. 28 asked her to search consular files for a Clinton letter renouncing citizenship, but Tamposi refused. Berry then asked Tamposi if she would respond to a congressional inquiry, Tamposi said, and Tamposi said she would "consider it."

The next day, Sept. 29, Tamposi received a letter from Solomon asking for "a careful search" for "information and documents" regarding U.S. citizens inquiring about dual citizenship. On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Tamposi's staff searched Clinton's files.

Solomon spokesman Dan Amon said Solomon's letter did not respond to a direct request from Berry for help in prodding Tamposi. Instead, Amon said, Solomon had been thinking about such a letter for some time and simply happened to write it Sept. 29.

"Mr. Berry appears to be convinced that the actions he took on behalf of Congressman Solomon were legitimate ... " the report said. "We believe he is dead wrong."