Obama's passport records rifled, probe promised

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Someone has been going through Sen. Barack Obama’s passport files at the State Department, and two have been fired for their “imprudent curiosity.’’

The State Department says its inspector general will investigate.

But to some, the episode sounds eerily reminiscent of the time that someone went through fomer President Bill Clinton’s passport files looking for damaging information – during the 1992 presidential election campaign.

And the fact that two contract workers already have been fired in Obamaport will prevent the State Department from investigating them, says the former federal prosecutor who served as special counsel in the investigation of the Clinton passport search. A third worker has been disciplined, State says.

The incidents of “imprudent curiosity’’ about Obama’s records occurred as recently as last week – on Mar. 14 – State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said today. The other dates: Jan. 9 and Feb. 21. The agency was not releasing the names of the two contract workers fired or the third worker disciplined or the company that employed them.

“We believe this was out of imprudent curiosity, so we are taking steps to reassure ourselves that that is, in fact, the case," McCormack said, adding that it was not immediately clear what the contract workers were looking for.

Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman, called for a complete investigation: “This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years.

“Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes,’’ Burton said. “We demand to know who looked at Sen. Obama's passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach.’’

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate’s passport records were rifled by a Republican administration – in 1992 – it led to a bigger investigation.

Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., was appointed independent counsel in December 1992. Then, it was a high-ranking State Department official, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs Steven K. Berry, who had gone through Clinton’s passport files during the election campaign.

State’s inspector general, Sherman Funk, said Berry had helped arrange a search in an effort to find politically damaging information about Clinton.

This time, the State Department said today, only now is the inspector general going to look into a case which first involved some illegal “curiosity’’ in January.

But diGenova said in interviews with MSNBCand CNN this evening that the fact that two employees of outside firms have been fired will prevent State’s inspector general from forcing them to talk because they are no longer government employees.

The former independent counsel also suggested that a failure to start investigating the newest breach sooner suggests “gross incompetence.’’ DiGenova told CNN: "This looks like, for the moment, big government gone wild at the lowest levels.''

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