Sandy Berger #039;rolls over#039; to protect Bill and Hillary

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2005

Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has now joined the pantheon of those who, in the immortal words of Webb Hubbell, have chosen to &uot;roll over one more time&uot; to protect Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This Hall of Ill-Fame includes Susan McDougal, Vince Foster, Monica Lewinsky, Johnnie Chung, former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and old Webb himself. What they each have in common is their silence and willingness to take the fall to protect the Clintons.

Berger has admitted that he stuffed top-secret documents into his pockets, shirt and pants, and why he sliced some up with scissors, destroyed them and then lied about it. Until he gives a credible explanation for this behavior, we are all entitled to make the logical inference - that he was hiding something to protect himself and his old bosses.

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The documents were an &uot;after-action review&uot; by Richard Clarke, then the National Security Council’s terrorism expert, discussing and analyzing our efforts to stop attacks during the Millennium celebrations. They were so secret, the Washington Times reports, that anyone seeking to remove the documents would have had to do so in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. And, it seems, they were so critical of the former administration that Berger felt he needed to steal them. But why did Berger steal them?

The most obvious reason would be to stop the 9/11 commission from including embarrassing revelations in its report.

Yes, the documents Berger purloined were not the only copies, but it’s not clear that Berger knew that. Or there may have been handwritten notes in the margins of the copies Berger destroyed - written by the president, Berger or others.

Berger’s &uot;explanation&uot; stinks: He claims he was too tired to review the documents in their secure venue, that eye fatigue moved him to stash them in his pocket for later comparison in the leisure of his home and office.

That’s nonsense. After all, he went back a week later and helped himself to more documents.

Berger would also have us believe he &uot;inadvertently&uot; cut up and &uot;inadvertently&uot; destroyed the documents - that he had no intention of concealing anything from the commission. And then, I suppose, he inadvertently lied about what he’d done.

Come on. With a shabby explanation like that, Berger invites speculation that he is covering for himself or for the Clintons.

Back in the ’90s, I found Berger consistently unwilling to act vigorously against terror-sponsoring nations. When Sen. Al D’Amato proposed sanctions against Iran, Berger tried to get Clinton to veto the bill; it was only after much public pressure that he signed it.

Berger was on a fast track to be the next Democratic Secretary of State. He risked that in stealing those documents. Now he has destroyed his future career by pleading to a criminal misdemeanor - admitting what he did while still concealing why he did it.

The Clintons’ reaction when Berger was caught? The former president’s comments sound just too scripted to believe: He laughed and said that it was typical of Sandy to be disorganized and forget how he handled documents. Quite a comment about the man he appointed to superintend the nation’s secrets.

Then Hillary announced, without being asked, that Sandy had just helped brief her for a February speech at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy - sending the adviser a signal that he was still part of the family, even though the grand jury was investigating him.

Picture the fevered atmosphere in the months after 9/11. Any indication by the commission investigating the attack that the Clinton administration hadn’t taken terrorism seriously would badly damage the former president’s reputation and the former first lady’s chances. Any loyal adviser would have worked to mitigate the possible damage. The measure of how serious the damage may have been is how far Berger risked falling to prevent it - and how far he did fall rather than reveal why.

Eileen McGann co-authored this column.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. E-mail Morris at