Topic: Government & Politics

Hillary Clinton's Advisor
(10/15/2007)

Hillary Clinton is employing Sandy Berger as an official campaign advisor. That would be the recently disbarred Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton, the Sandy Berger who pleaded guilty to stealing documents from the National Archive and then lying to federal investigators about it. Lawyers are disbarred when they prove themselves to be untrustworthy because they lie, steal, or otherwise show that they have the ethical instincts of Captain Jack Sparrow. Disbarred lawyers are not the kind of people we want advising potential presidents, because their advice is liable to be unethical.

What does this turn of events tell us about Hillary Clinton? There are a few possibilities, not all of them horrible:

  • She might be trying to help out an old friend and loyal ally who is struggling. Sandy, like "Scooter" Libby, was a good soldier: it has never been sufficiently explained why he took the material from the archives and who, if anyone, put him up to it. The fact that he may have been following orders doesn't earn him any sympathy here, but Berger was working for Bill Clinton when he took the papers, and if he took the fall for a special mission gone wrong, it is appropriate that the Clintons not drop him like a wormy apple…like they did with another ethically-challenged advisor, Dick Morris.

  • Berger might be advising Hillary on foreign affairs rather than burglary. After all, he does have a lot of experience. She may have concluded that his legal transgressions are irrelevant to his area of expertise. And, to be fair, he certainly showed he was not an expert at stealing papers, stuffing them in his socks and all.

  • Hillary may be completely tone-deaf regarding ethical propriety. Maybe it doesn't diminish Berger in her eyes one bit that he has committed a felony and been disbarred. This would be a little strange, as Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and most lawyers treat their disbarred former colleagues as if they have scrofula. But she's still married to Bill, and he had to surrender his bar license for lying under oath. Maybe it's no big deal to her.

The best guess here is that all three are true, and this should give even the most committed Hillary fans pause. A disbarred lawyer who is a confessed felon should not be receiving the imprimatur of a presidential campaign. Surely there are competent advisors available to Clinton who are not felons and disgraced attorneys. Even granting that Berger has expertise to offer, can a presidential candidate maintain that she will insist on high ethical standards in her administration while employing such an individual? How? "Scooter" Libby was fired for lying to investigators; Sandy Berger was…hired? What message can this send, other than "Ethics, schmethics…Sandy's my guy." I think we've heard something like this before from the current president, regarding his illustrious former Attorney General.

There is a counter argument, and this is it: when a crisis looms, a president should get the best advice available, whoever it may be from. Richard Nixon was a genuine whiz in foreign affairs, and Watergate notwithstanding, he was certainly consulted privately by more than one of his successors. So was Henry Kissinger. This is just common sense and effective leadership. But no president made Richard Nixon an official advisor. His presence would have called into question the integrity of the White House and the values of its occupant.

If a president is going to consult a Nixon, a Kissinger or a Berger, isn't it more honest to do so officially rather than in secret? Would the public be comfortable if it knew that a president was asking advice from Tricky Dick, and if not, wouldn't it be wrong to hide that fact from them? Perhaps; I hesitate to declare that the public has a right to know the identity of every person a leader may consult before making a decision. But hiring someone with Berger's record (and this doesn't even consider the fact that Nixon's credentials and experience in foreign affairs dwarf those of Sandy Berger) to be a paid staff advisor constitutes a public statement that a leader does not value ethical conduct sufficiently to make it a requirement of her staff.

Whether Berger's advice is good or bad, that is a significant---and disturbing--- discovery about Hillary Clinton.

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