A 'Bergler" Steals Clinton's Credibility

Kathryn Lopez

10/13/2007 12:01:00 AM - Kathryn Lopez

When Bill and Hillary Clinton did their online "Sopranos" spoof after the HBO show's finale, they may have been trying to tell us something more than we realized. The Clintons, sans the New Jersey accent, subtly yet unmistakably were announcing: "We and our posse are back. Burglars and all."

In fairness to the Clintons, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger is just one burglar, but when we're talking about national-security information, a single thief is all you need to question a candidate's credibility. That the Hillary Clinton campaign would even take Berger's phone calls, 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 Sen. Clinton's part.

Berger, you may recall, was Bill Clinton's national security adviser. Now Hillary Clinton is trying to sock it to you by employing him as her campaign foreign-policy adviser, treating Berger like a respectable foreign-policy expert -- exactly what he ceased to be when he was a common criminal heisting classified documents from the National Archives in 2003.

While preparing the former President Clinton for his 9/11 Commission testimony (as well as preparing his own), Berger stole top-secret national-defense documents from the National Archives, stuffing them in a briefcase and in his clothing. He destroyed documents, hid others -- some at a nearby construction site. He later lied, claiming it was all a mistake, blaming the removal and destruction on "sloppiness" -- "an honest mistake," he said, with former presidential backing.

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, which was instead left for an alert customs agent to discover. 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 noninventoried 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 Clinton administration's poor counterterrorism performance won't become breaking news on the way back to the White House. Or maybe Berger simply knows too much of the kind of information that could hurt an aspiring 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 she continue using the Democrats' top talking point -- the claim that they are the antidote to a "culture of corruption" in Washington? If 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.