A July 23 editorial about former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger should have said that government employees, not archives employees, told The Post that Mr. Berger had taken documents on more than one occasion. Also, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) announced that the Government Reform Committee he chairs will investigate the matter, but Mr. Davis has not said it will hold hearings. (Published 7/24/04)
IT'S STILL NOT clear why former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger improperly removed secret documents from the National Archives last year. Mr. Berger, who was reviewing Clinton administration papers in connection with their release to the Sept. 11 commission, says he carried off several drafts of a January 2000 White House counterterrorism memo by mistake. But archives employees told The Post he took documents on more than one occasion, prompting them to code material they gave him during an October 2003 visit. When called about the disappearance of some of those papers, Mr. Berger acknowledged that he also slipped out with some 50 pages of notes he had failed to clear with archives personnel, as required by law.
Because the classified memos he took apparently covered weaknesses in the Clinton administration's defense against domestic terrorist attacks, some have speculated that the former NSC chief, until this week a principal foreign policy adviser to presumptive Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, may have been trying to save himself or the previous Democratic administration from embarrassment -- although the Sept. 11 commission did review the memo. Maybe he was simply contemptuous of the idea that he should have access to a report he commissioned only in an archives reading room and under the scrutiny of its personnel. Whether it was a mistake or not, Mr. Berger's conduct, the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI, was reprehensible, and he was right to resign as a Kerry adviser.
Still, it's hard not to be repulsed by the reaction to the affair by President Bush's campaign spokesmen and Republicans in Congress. They have suggested, without foundation, that Mr. Berger took the papers to benefit Mr. Kerry, who says that he knew nothing of the matter; House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has spoken, with gross hyperbole, of a "national security crisis." Having squelched congressional examination of a genuine national security scandal -- the involvement of U.S. military commanders in grave violations of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq -- House leaders, including Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), have rushed to announce hearings on the Berger affair. As happened so often during the Clinton administration, they are treating a real but apparently limited case of misconduct as an opportunity to misuse congressional oversight powers to wage partisan warfare.
It's worth noting that news of the months-old investigation of Mr. Berger just happened to leak on the week before the Democratic convention, and two days before the release of the Sept. 11 commission's report -- which covers serious lapses by President Bush as well as President Bill Clinton. Officials at the Bush White House had been briefed on the Berger probe. Could that be a coincidence?