Sandy Berger, who stole highly classified terrorism documents from the National Archives, destroyed them and lied to investigators, is now an adviser to presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Berger, who was fired from John Kerry’s presidential campaign when the scandal broke in 2004, has assumed a similar role in Clinton’s campaign, even though his security clearance has been suspended until September 2008. This is raising eyebrows even among Clinton’s admirers.
"It shows poor judgment and a lack of regard for Berger’s serious misdeeds," said law professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University, who nonetheless called Clinton "by far the most impressive candidate in the Democratic field."
Adler told The Examiner that it is "simply incomprehensible to me that a serious contender for the presidency would rely upon him as a key foreign policy advisor."
He added: "If Senator Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, at some point she will begin to receive national security briefings that will include sensitive information. At such a point, continuing to keep Berger on board as a key advisor, where he might have access to sensitive material, would be beyond incomprehensible."
The Clinton campaign declined to comment.
Berger has admitted stealing documents from the National Archives in advance of the 9/11 Commission hearings in 2003. The documents, written by White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, were a "tough review" of the Clinton administration’s shortcomings in dealing with terrorism, Clarke’s lawyer told the Washington Post.
On several occasions, Berger stuffed highly classified documents into his pants and socks before spiriting them out of the Archives building in Washington, according to investigators. On one occasion, upon reaching the street, he hid documents under a construction trailer after checking the windows of the Archives and Justice Department buildings to make sure he was not being watched.
Berger came back later and retrieved the documents, taking them home and cutting them up with scissors. Two days later, he was informed by Archive employees that his removal of documents had been detected.
"Berger panicked because he realized he was caught," said a report by the National Archives inspector general, which also recounted his initial reaction. "Berger lied."
Berger also lied to the public, telling reporters he made an "honest mistake" by "inadvertently" taking the documents, which he blamed on his own "sloppiness." Bill Clinton vouched for the explanation for Berger, who served as his national security adviser.
Berger later conceded: "I was giving a benign explanation for what was not benign."
The Justice Department initially said Berger stole only copies of classified documents and not originals. But the House Government Reform Committee later revealed that an unsupervised Berger had been given access to classified files of original, uncopied, uninventoried documents on terrorism. Several Archives officials acknowledged that Berger could have stolen any number of items and they "would never know what, if any, original documents were missing."
At his sentencing in September 2005, Berger was fined $50,000, placed on probation for two years and stripped of his security clearance for three years.