Politics & Policy

Criminal Behavior

There are two kinds of crooks. The first cuts a deal. He tells the government what he knows and forever after is ostracized and hunted by his old partners in crime. The second is “stand-up.” He keeps his mouth shut. After serving his time, he is welcomed back into the fold. He might even get a “bump up” in rank from his grateful bosses.

No, we’re not talking about The Sopranos. What we have in mind is a new episode of a tawdry soap opera that began in the 1990s. Welcome to the case of disgraced former national security adviser Sandy Berger — and what it portends about a potential President Hillary.

Now Berger is back in business at Camp Clinton, advising New York’s junior senator in her bid for the White House. This warrants a review of Berger’s recent history. After his stint as national security adviser, he became Bill Clinton’s liaison to the 9/11 Commission as it investigated intelligence failures (many of which happened on Berger’s watch). Berger was accordingly given access to the national archives, both to prepare his own testimony and to get the former president ready for an interview with the commission.

Berger used his privileged access to steal top-secret national-defense documents. On at least two occasions he stuffed them into his clothing and briefcase, smuggling them out of the archives. He secreted some of these stolen papers under the wheel of a truck at a nearby construction site so that he could return for them later. Other documents he intentionally destroyed. These actions were serious felonies.

Berger’s behavior was so strange that the government noticed and investigated. Berger then lied to the authorities, denying what he had done and absurdly claiming he had taken the documents in an honest mistake. Only later did he fess up to his theft.

Because the archives lacked filing controls, it is impossible to know exactly how much Berger stole. Yet — as our Byron York has reported — among the highly classified haul were various drafts of an “after-action report” prepared by top Clinton counterterrorism officials after the Customs Service, in a stroke of luck, foiled the millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. That report has been widely described as a scathing internal assessment of the Clinton administration’s performance and state of preparedness for domestic terrorist attack. It was highly relevant to the 9/11 Commission’s investigation, as was the manner in which it was finalized and the question whether the Clinton administration acted on its recommendations.

Yet the commission was not told about Berger’s unlawful actions. He was not questioned about them, and the public has never been permitted to see copies of what he took (such copies are said to exist). President Clinton and the Clinton Library are conveniently immune to Freedom of Information Act disclosure requests for 12 years. And the Bush Justice Department shamefully tucked this whole affair under the rug by permitting Berger to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, effectively shielding him from public disclosure of the evidence.

What kind of advice is Berger giving Mrs. Clinton, anyway? It can’t be legal advice: Berger forfeited his law license. It’s unlikely he’d be much help on Iran: The Clinton administration didn’t respond to the Khobar Towers bombing (in which19 U.S. Air Force personnel were killed) because Berger and others were convinced that then–Iranian president Mohammed Khatami was going to “reform” the hard-line mullahs. Berger failed on al Qaeda, too: Clinton declined to respond to the terror network’s bombing of the U.S.S. Cole (17 U.S. Navy personnel killed) because, according to Clinton, Berger’s intelligence services couldn’t tell him who did it.

Sandy Berger was a failure as national-security adviser. Then he became a criminal. As Americans contemplate making Hillary their president, they would be wise to consider the company she keeps.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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