Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger — under criminal investigation for sneaking top-secret documents out of the National Archives in his pants legs and, possibly, his socks — abruptly quit yesterday as an adviser to John Kerry.
The "sock-doc" probe into Berger's conduct threatened to explode into a major headache for Kerry before next week's Democratic convention, where his top goal is to convince Americans that he can be trusted with national security.
Berger, who served under then-President Bill Clinton, has been acting as an informal adviser to Kerry and public advocate for his campaign.
"The fundamental question that needs to be answered by the Kerry campaign is whether the documents were used for their political benefit," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.
One document reviewing terrorist plots to disrupt the millennium celebrations is said to pinpoint "the many vulnerabilities in homeland defenses" — an issue where Kerry has blasted President Bush, with special focus on port defenses.
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) claimed there is "a curious connection between the removal of these documents and the Kerry press conference on port security," which took place last Dec. 17, the ABC News Web site reported.
The classified documents are "way above top-secret" under a protocol known as "code word," the most highly classified U.S. government program, a U.S. official said. It's illegal even to make and remove mere notes about such documents.
The documents taken by Berger are said to include drafts of an "after-action review" of the millennium plot written by Clinton/Bush terrorism adviser Richard Clarke.
Clarke's after-action review identified "glaring weaknesses" in Clinton's anti-terror policies and indicated that luck played a big role when the United States barely missed a major terror attack in 1999, according to public testimony last April by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The FBI was called in after alert archives staffers saw documents peeking out from under Berger's pants, smelled a rat — and ran a sting operation by marking other documents to prove he was taking them out, a government official said.
The FBI searched Berger's home and office and he returned some documents, but at least two, believed to be millennium review drafts, are believed missing. Berger says he accidentally destroyed them.