Jewish World Review July 23, 2004 / 5 Menachem-Av, 5764
Trousergate: Berger has some splainin' to do
There may be an innocent explanation for "Trousergate," the removal of
highly classified documents from the National Archives by former President
Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, but that's not the way to
In preparation for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Berger spent
three days last summer and fall in the National Archives reviewing documents
concerning the Clinton's administration's response (or lack of it) to terror
After Berger's first visit, staff at the National Archives noticed that some
documents were missing. Berger returned some documents, claiming he had
taken them inadvertently. But they weren't the documents the Archives staff
thought were missing.
So, "on subsequent visits by Berger, Archives staffers specially marked
documents he reviewed to try to ensure their return. But the government
official said some of those materials also went missing, prompting Archives
staffers to alert federal authorities," said USA Today in its story July 21.
Archives staffers were keeping an eye on Berger, and they saw him putting
notes he'd taken in his shirt, his pants, his socks, according to accounts
on CNN and in the Washington Post and New York Daily News.
Still missing are four or five drafts of the "after-action review" of the
Clinton administration's handling of the Millenium bomb plot. Each copy was
15-30 pages long, and was classified at the code word (above Top Secret)
level. Quite a lot of paper to "inadvertently" misplace.
Regardless of his intent, each time Berger took a document from the
Archives, and each time he stuffed a note he'd made from classified
documents into his trousers or his socks, he was committing a felony.
The governing statute is 18 USC 793 (f):
"Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any
document, writing... note or information, relating to the national
defense...through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its
proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or
to be lost, stolen, abstracted or destroyed...shall be fined under this
title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
Berger claims he didn't mean to take the classified documents from their
"proper place of custody."
"When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I
immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I had
apparently discarded," Berger said in a statement.
As a former National Security Adviser, it's pretty hard to believe that
Berger didn't know the rules for handling classified information, or the
penalties for mishandling them.
And if the rules had slipped Berger's mind, he had a recent reminder in the
case of John Deutch, Clinton's second CIA director, who might have gone to
prison for taking classified information home, if Clinton hadn't pardoned
him just before leaving office in January, 2001.
It's harder still to believe Berger could have "inadvertently" taken
documents from the Archives a second and a third time after having been
called on it by Archives staff. The only logical explanation for putting
his notes in his pants and his socks instead of his briefcase is that he
knew his briefcase would be searched, and he didn't want the notes
We can only speculate about why Berger did what he did. Was the information
in the drafts of the Millenium plot after action review so embarrassing to
the Clinton administration that Berger didn't want the 9/11 Commission to
see it? Was he gathering ammunition for Sen. Kerry, for whom he served as
an unpaid foreign policy adviser, to use against President Bush? Was he
just getting a head start on a kiss and tell book of his own?
Berger's lawyer claims that since the 9/11 Commission got a copy of the
final version of the Millenium bomb plot report, no harm was done. But the
earlier copies may have contained information left out of the final version,
and the earlier copies may have contained handwritten notes from reviewing
officials that had unflattering things to say. We don't know, and we don't
know who else may have seen the drafts that were "inadvertently discarded."
Berger has some splainin' to do. Perhaps the House of Representatives,
which plans to hold hearings on Trousergate, will get at the truth.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan
administration. Comment by clicking here.
Jack Kelly Archives
© 2004, Jack Kelly