On the eve of former President Bill Clinton's primetime address at the Democratic National Convention -- and in the aftermath of the release of the 9-11 Commission report as well as disclosures that the FBI is investigating Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger for the removal of classified documents from the National Archives -- conservative commentators used the Berger investigation to attempt to smear Clinton and his administration's efforts to combat terrorism; some suggested that, in removing Archives documents, Berger was trying to cover up information that would be embarrassing to the Clinton administration.
While journalists and pundits have been quick to jump on the rumor that Berger put documents in his pants and/or his socks, as Media Matters for America documented on July 23, little has been said about the July 19, CBS report stating that "law enforcement sources say they don't expect charges to be filed" against Berger.
On Sunday, conservative pundits also attempted to revive speculation that, notwithstanding the Clintons' prominent participation in the Democratic National Convention -- Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will be introducing her husband -- and notwithstanding their strong expressions of support for the Democratic ticket, both favor the Democrats' defeat in November to clear a path for Senator Clinton to run for president in 2008.
On the July 25 edition of FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, William Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and host Chris Wallace made the link between the Berger incident and alleged failures of the Clinton administration, offering their utterly unsupported speculation about Berger's motives. Kristol and Wallace suggested that, despite the 9-11 Commission's insistence that they had "access to all the materials we [they] need[ed] to see to do our [their] report," Berger was covering for the Clinton administration:
KRISTOL: It may be that he took every copy in the White House files, which may have had handwritten notes from himself, presumably, or others in the White House all the way up to the president responding to things that are in the printed document. So it's not correct to say that there are copies of what Sandy Berger took away elsewhere.
He seems to have been very purposeful in taking all the copies in these files, these White House files, all the copies he could find of this particular memorandum.
WALLACE: So what you're saying is he's basically trying to cover either his tracks or Bill Clinton's tracks?
KRISTOL: I think that is a plausible conclusion based on what we now know.
While many commentators have offered their own suppositions regarding what materials Berger might have taken, as Media Matters for America documented on July 23, the commission itself insisted that it had all the materials it needed; Kristol's "plausible conclusion," then, must rest on the premise that the commission is not telling the truth.
Kristol's and Wallace's comments on FOX News Sunday echoed the sentiments of a July 23 New York Sun editorial that decried the "Clinton-Berger administration" as having failed to understand the threat posed by terrorism; their comments also echoed the sentiments of right-wing radio host Sean Hannity, who seized upon the Sun editorial -- reading it in its entirety on air -- on his July 23 program to suggest that Berger's actions in the National Archives were designed to conceal the Clinton administration's response to Al Qaeda. The Sun asserted that because of the ongoing impeachment scandal, Clinton "was a preoccupied president." Yet, despite the Sun's and Hannity's assertions, no evidence in the public record supports their shared theory that Clinton was too distracted to address terrorism; indeed, The New York Times reported on July 25 that, when comparing the Clinton and Bush responses to Al Qaeda, while "[n]either comes off well, [...] the report seems to portray Mr. Clinton as better informed and more engaged than Mr. Bush."
On the July 25 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show, guest Paul A. Gigot, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page editor, suggested that Berger "was probably trying to protect something, an embarrassment from the Clinton years":
MATTHEWS: What is behind this [Sandy Berger] weirdness?
GIGOT: I mean, that's the key question -- the motive. It looks like he was taking documents -- he took the same one twice -- so it's hard to see if it was inadvertent, but you know, maybe-- it looks to me like he was probably trying to protect something, an embarrassment from the Clinton years.
The Chris Matthews Show's guests and its host also smeared the former president -- and Senator Clinton -- more explicitly in the context of the couple's participation in the convention. Gigot, BBC News correspondent Katty Kay, and Matthews expressed skepticism over the strength of the Clintons' support for Senator John Kerry's presidential bid. Matthews returned to his almost obsessive speculation that the Clintons favor a Kerry loss in November to clear the path for Senator Clinton to run in 2008:
MATTHEWS: Does Bill really want John Kerry to win?
KAY: I think that deep in his heart, the Clintons think that the best thing for the country is a Hillary Clinton presidency. [crosstalk] I think there's room for the possibility that that means waiting.
GIGOT: Hillary is ambivalent about the victory of John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: Don't you all think on this panel that Hillary Clinton's showing she really doesn't want Kerry to win whereas Bill is much harder to read?
KAY: I go with the theory that they're ambivalent about it, that deep in their hearts the Clintons want a Hillary Clinton presidency. If that is advanced by having John Kerry lose this time, then I think there is a part of them that's thinking, well that wouldn't be so bad.