Now, I've chatted with a few people who are very experienced in the rules and procedures governing the handling of classified documents. And many of them think this "innocent" explanation is the most damning. Berger was the head of the NSA, and he was in charge of countless documents like these when he was in the White House. And here Clinton is defending him by saying mistakes like these are just plain funny because they're so typical. Berger steals documents in the lead-up the 9/11 Commission hearings because - according to his lawyer! - he was too distracted stealing notes that he couldn't keep things straight. And Bill Clinton is laughing it off. Why? Because that's so like Sandy! He was always a slob with vital national security documents.
Mr. Berger has been a top advisor to the Kerry campaign. He resigned this week to stem the damage to the Democrats. But why didn't Berger tell Kerry he was being investigated? I guess being investigated by the Justice Department for his chicanery is as laughable - and therefore trivial - a subject as losing "password" class documents and sneaking past armed guards with notes crammed into your pants.
Now, nobody ever gives this administration the benefit of the "most innocent" explanation. George W. Bush is still called a liar every day, and the Kerry campaign still says Bush misled the country, even though two massive investigations - one in Britain and one by the Senate Intelligence Committee - have exonerated Bush of that charge and cast very harsh light on his accusers, like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
This election - according to every observer and even the campaigns themselves - will be focused on national security and the war on terror. But the Democrats and The New York Times are convinced the real scandal here isn't Berger's antics but the leak which revealed them. I cannot recall such concern about a single leak in the last year which hurt the Bush administration.
The central debate of this election is national security. Democrats charge that Bush has fumbled it. Republicans charge that the Democrats don't take it seriously enough. Fair debate.
But now comes a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, who helped write the Democratic platform and who set anti-terror policy in the last administration. He's been caught in a scandal in which the most innocent defense they can mount is that he was so careless, so sloppy and so dismissive of the rules that he stole - and lost! - extremely sensitive documents by accident, while illegally smuggling others. And the last Democratic Commander-in-Chief says it's not only typical, it's funny.
That may be the most innocent explanation, but it's also evidence why these guys have their work cut out if they're going to convince voters they're serious about national security.