From this evenings Nelson

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From this evening’s Nelson Report, here’s Chris Nelson <$NoAd$>on the Berger matter …

Summary: apparent removal of classified documents from the National Archives by Kerry Campaign advisor Sandy Berger is classic “Washington scandal”…friends rush to the defense; enemies issue pious quasi-indictments; everyone tries to measure whether the victim/subject is mortally wounded, or will survive to play in the future. (If so, you’d better watch what you say now…) Quick verdict of the professionals…Berger’s lost any chance at Senate-confirmed job in a Kerry Administration (Secretary of State was the presumed desire); timing of the leak was not coincidental (Dem National Convention opens Monday, 9/11 Report due this week). As to whether he’s really “guilty”, no one knows, perhaps including Berger. One thing is for sure…a political life can change in seconds.

1. First, on the scandal de jour, former Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, lately a high-profile player in Democrat John Kerry’s campaign for the presidency, today found himself publicly accused of illegally removing highly classified anti-terrorism documents from the National Archives, while reviewing the materials to prepare for his testimony to the 9/11 Commission.

— Berger’s friends and former colleagues rushed to his defense, but the Kerry Campaign appeared taken by surprise, and merely offered “no comment about an on-going investigation”. Republicans could hardly contain their glee, issuing pious remarks about the seriousness of the matter, without wishing to rush to judgment against Berger. In short, a typical Washington scandal, with everyone looking over their shoulder to see how it might affect them.

2. As in any leak, one must always ask who did it, and why. In leaks, the motives can be played either way…sometimes opponents of something think a leak will stop it; other times, proponents leak to discredit opponents, etc., etc. Since the circumstances of Berger’s potential discomfiture have apparently been known to a variety of players for several months, we may never know why this story just surfaced now.

— for what it’s worth, the Justice Department denied any involvement in, or political motivation for leaking word of the probe, implying a pure coincidence that it comes days before the Democratic National Convention opens in Boston, and the further coincidence that the 9/11 Commission report is coming this week. (Democrats, of course, darkly hinted that Berger was being thrown out as a diversionary tactic from what is presumed to be an embarrassing report for the Republicans.)

3. If Republicans and Democrats disagreed as to the motive for the Berger leak, one difference between this scandal and the “usual” is that both sides agree on one thing: to the extent that anyone is willing to discuss events “off the record”, both friends and enemies agree that any chance Berger had of continuing a public role as a Kerry foreign policy advisor has been eliminated.

— and for the future? To quote one old Washington hand who happens to be a Dem, “what do you think Republicans would do if Berger’s name was submitted to the Senate for Sec State?” For the immediate future, what remains to be determined is whether Berger’s embarrassment also becomes Kerry’s embarrassment…and the mere fact of the question helps convince many Democrats of the political motivation of the timing of the leak, since Berger has apparently been under investigation by Justice since last October.

4. To show just why Democrats are upset/worried: Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of House Armed Services, lost no time in raising a serious charge, while pretending not to. Speaking to Fox News last night, Hunter suggested that Berger may have removed the classified documents to help the Kerry Campaign (since they apparently cover an “after action” report of things Clinton did, successfully, in the war on terrorism).

— Hunter then went on to say he “accepted” Berger’s “protestations and [his] proclaimed innocence and his good faith and [that] it was just a mistake – he was just sloppy. I think we accept that.” Plunging home the knife, Hunter concluded, however, that there is a “certain discipline” required to separate politics from public duty, and that “he’s obviously violated that discipline.”

(Translation: if Kerry’s people are “sloppy” with highly classified materials in the war on terrorism, how can Kerry be trusted with the responsibility of protecting the American people in the future? Especially, Hunter implies, if Dems are so reckless as to use classified information for political advantage. Shocking…shocking. Democrats choke in fury on that one, given Atty. Gen. Ashcroft’s record since 9/11. Anyhow, that, in a nutshell, gives you the immediate bottom line.)

I think Chris has the dimensions of this about right.

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