WASHINGTON — I guess 3,500 classified documents would be too many to stuff into your clothing if you were a high-ranking government official and wanted to take them home for leisure reading. Perhaps that explains why this week one of the State Department’s most knowledgeable experts on China, Donald W. Keyser, a Foreign Service officer with three decades of experience, was sentenced to a year in the hoosegow after these documents were found in his Fairfax County residence. Keyser claimed he had just been “careless.” Without the comic touch of stuffing the documents into one’s clothing, being “careless” with classified materials is apparently a serious offense. So off to the hoosegow Keyser will go.
The Clinton Administration’s former national security adviser, Samuel R. (Sandy) Berger, claimed carelessness too after he was nabbed for taking classified materials home from the National Archives where in 2002 and 2003 he had been preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission. Among his documents were draft documents, memos, e-mail messages and hand-written notes, some from the Clinton Administration’s counterterrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. These would be very relevant to the Commission’s deliberations.
Employees of the Archives espied the chubby Berger stuffing the documents into his socks. He claimed that he had accidentally mixed the classified papers in with his other papers when he left the Archives. Apparently Bill Clinton’s national security adviser was given to carrying his personal papers in his socks. That would be in keeping with the administration’s dog patch ambiance. Carrying an attache case might have been eschewed as “elitist.”
At any rate, in April 2005 Berger got off, pleading to merely a misdemeanor. He was fined $50,000 and barred from access to the Archives for three years. After that perhaps the archivists will require that he remove his socks before being given classified material, or maybe he will allay the staff’s concerns by wearing flip flops.
Yet now Berger’s story has taken a more serious turn. As part of his 2005 plea agreement Berger promised to take a lie detector. He never did. This week in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, eighteen Republican congressmen have asked that the Justice Department proceed with the polygraph testing of Berger. It is more critical today than it might have been back in April of 2005. This autumn a Congressional committee made an astounding discovery regarding the contents of Berger’s socks. The Archives had failed to catalogue the materials that they gave him to review. No one aside from Berger has any idea what he took from the Archives. He may have doctored documents. He may have destroyed documents. There have been many distinguished former government officials who lived to write their version of the history they participated in. Sandy Berger is the rare government official who has lived to erase history. A polygraph test might reveal how much history he erased.
Berger’s lawyer, a veteran Clinton smog artist, Lanny Breuer, insists there is no “evidence” that his client did anything wrong. That is classic Clinton obfuscation. Berger was caught stealing classified documents from the National Archives. For a former national security adviser to do such a thing is without precedent. It now has been revealed that the Archives had not catalogued the materials it gave him. There is no precedent on the public record for that either. Berger is also a proven liar. All this constitutes “evidence” that Berger has done something very wrong. A lie detector test may give us a sense of how much wrong he did. Moreover, taking the test was part of Berger’s 2005 agreement. He should live up to his agreement and take the test. The Justice Department should enforce the rule of law and make him take the test.
Yet as we have seen since the 1990s, there is a peculiar double standard in the country. One very lax and capricious rule obtains for the Clintons and their servitors, and another duly exacting rule for the rest of us. Former State Department Keyser is numbered among the rest of us. He was a top adviser to former Secretary of State Colin Powell — so off to the hoosegow with him. He is disgraced and Berger is standing gloriously among us in his stocking feet.
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