Jewish World Review July 23, 2004 / 5 Menachem-Av, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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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 bet.

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 threats.

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."

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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 discovered.

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.

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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.

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