It is very troubling, though not surprising, that the Justice Department is barely going to slap Sandy Berger's wrists for intentionally violating a criminal law critical to our national security.
Berger, a national security adviser in the Clinton administration, was caught red-handed removing sensitive, classified documents from the National Archives.
The documents were drafts of a damning "after-action review" by anti-terrorist expert Richard Clarke of the Clinton administration's actions in thwarting an attack by Al Qaeda against America during the millennium celebration. The report revealed "glaring" national security weaknesses and attributed prevention of the attack to "luck."
Under a plea agreement with the government, Berger will be fined $10,000 and his national security clearance will be suspended for three years. The Justice Department rationalized this absurd lenience by saying, "Berger did not have an intent to hide any of the content of the documents" or conceal facts from the commission. He destroyed copies, not originals. He wasn't trying to cover-up Clinton administration incompetence, but took the documents because it would be more convenient to prepare for his testimony in his office.
What kind of message is Justice sending here? It seems the Bush administration bends over backward to avoid placing its predecessor in a negative light. Remember the way it buried the trashing of the White House by outgoing Clinton personnel?
Perhaps the administration is also giving Berger the benefit of the doubt because of his "distinguished career" and stature. But doesn't Berger's stature -- in a society supposedly committed to the rule of law -- militate against leniency?
Indeed, because of his particular expertise and the important government position he held, Berger arguably should be held to a higher standard than your common classified document thief. Berger, of all people, should know the importance of protecting sensitive national security information.
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