Politics & Policy

The Sandy Berger Bind

What Republicans can do.

Is there anyone who honestly thinks the coverage of Sandy Berger’s theft of classified documents wouldn’t be dramatically different if he were a conservative Republican?

Imagine for a second what would happen if Condoleezza Rice were caught by the good folks at the National Archives stealing sensitive documents by hiding them on her person. Would that story generate the same minimal play the Berger theft has? No–it would be a firestorm.

So, what ought Republicans do about Berger and his purloined documents?

Here’s an idea: House Republicans should force a vote on increasing the criminal penalties for removing classified material from a government archive. The maximum penalty for this crime, a misdemeanor, is currently one year of jail time and $100,000 fine. House Republicans should move a simple bill making it (1) a felony, with (2) a maximum prison sentence of five years, (3) a maximum fine of $500,000, and (4) a lifetime revocation of all security clearances.

Forcing this bill to the House floor would not impact Sandy Berger’s absolutely flimsy punishment (a $10,000 fine and loss of his security clearance for three years), but it would send a message about his ridiculous conduct, and it would put the Democrats in a box. House Democrats could either (a) vote for the commonsense increase in penalties for this crime and tacitly admit that Sandy Berger is getting away with a slap on the wrist, or (b) vote against these penalties, undermine their already weak position on security issues, and give Republican challengers a nice issue for 2006.

If House Republicans did send such a bill to the floor, my bet would be that any marginally endangered Democrats (like the 41 who saw Bush defeat Kerry in their congressional districts) would vote for harsher penalties, sending a clear message to the court that must approve Berger’s weak plea bargain.

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.

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