Editor’s note: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact: Carmen Puello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Bill and Hillary Clinton did their online Sopranos spoof the night after the HBO show’s finale, they may have been trying to tell us something more than we realized at the time. The Clintons, sans the New Jersey accent, subtly yet unmistakably, were announcing: “We and our posse are back. Burglars and all.”
#ad#In fairness to the Clintons, Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger is just one burglar. But when we’re talking national-security information, surely one is all you need to question a candidate’s credibility.
Berger, you may recall, was Bill Clinton’s national-security adviser. He is also the star of The Case of the Stuffed Socks. Now Hillary Clinton wants to sock it to you: He is a Clinton campaign foreign-policy adviser. The Democratic presidential candidate is treating Berger like a respectable foreign-policy expert — exactly, in other words, what he ceased to be when he acted like a common criminal with exceptional classified clearance at the National Archives in 2003.
While preparing the former President Clinton for his 9/11 Commission testimony (as well as preparing his own), the former national-security adviser stole top-secret national-defense documents from the National Archives, stuffing them in a briefcase and in his clothing. (Yes, his pants and socks. And yes, that sounds ridiculous. It was and is. Archives staff thought so too, which is why they investigated the former senior Clinton administration official.) He destroyed documents. He hid others — some at a nearby construction site. He would later lie, claiming it was all a mistake, blaming the removal and destruction on “sloppiness” — “an honest mistake,” he said, with former-presidential backing.
That the Hillary Clinton campaign would even take Berger’s phone calls at this point, never mind hold him close as an adviser, is an outrage. Moreover, it’s a bright red screeching siren signaling a huge judgment problem on Senator Clinton’s part.
Berger, for the record, wasn’t stealing old lunch menus for his scrapbook. While we don’t know everything he took (and in some cases destroyed), we know he did take drafts of what people familiar with it have described as a scathing “after-action report” done after the intelligence community failed to foil the millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, instead leaving it to an awake Customs agent to save the day. The report was a brutal internal review of our state of unreadiness—our vulnerability to domestic terrorism. A House Government Reform Committee investigation revealed that Berger had unsupervised access to uninventoried original documents on terrorism for which there were no duplicates.
So perhaps Mrs. Clinton is holding Berger close as a “thank you”: Thanks for making sure that some hard-hitting internal analysis of the Bill Clinton administration’s poor counterterrorism performance won’t become breaking news at some inconvenient moment on the way back to the White House. Or — as much as I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but one is left asking questions since the Clintons aren’t offering answers — maybe it’s because Berger simply knows too much, the kind of information that could hurt an aspiring President Clinton running on executive experience. That’s surely another reason to keep him on board.
Perhaps candidate Clinton feels the need to prove that she is up for a challenge. How, after all, can Hillary Clinton continue using the Democrats’ top talking point, i.e., the claim that they are the antidote to a “culture of corruption” in Washington? If Sandy Berger’s top-secret rampage isn’t corrupt, I don’t know what corrupt is.
However you view it, the facts are that the Berger case is weird, troubling, and mishandled. It’s been mishandled by the Clintonistas, who haven’t had an open-door policy on the classified after-action report. Berger hasn’t been in a rush to set the record straight, giving up his law license rather than let the D.C. bar do a thorough investigation. It’s been mishandled by the Bush administration: The Justice Department let Berger plea bargain, admitting guilt to a misdemeanor handling of classified information, slapping him with a $50,000 fine. No jail for Berger the Burglar.
Now, of course, the last time we left a Clinton administration, they had redefined the word “is,” so perhaps the Democrats’ First Family may be able to pull a disappearing act on an obvious case of criminal activity. Hillary may be able to get away with it. But for serious people, in serious times, it should disqualify her for the presidency.
© 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.