Well, taking classified documents out of the archives is illegal whether it was done intentionall or not, so I guess Sandy Berger’s not going to come out of this looking to good. But none of the news coverage I’ve seen of this is clear on what I take to be a very important issue here — were the documents Berger lost (generous interpretation) or destroyed (ungenerous interpretation) unique copies of something, or just one set of papers among many. If it’s the latter, then it seems we can rule out any of the nefarious intent that Andrew Sullivan insinuates here. You don’t cover something up by eliminating one copy of the documents. Now my guess is that this isn’t what happened, because if it had we would have heard about it earlier from the 9/11 Commission as they complained about their inability to assemble a complete record. But that’s just a guess. If the documents were unique, Berger looks a good deal worse.

Like others, I’m pretty puzzled by this whole thing, which seems motiveless and self-destructive. Maybe Dick Holbrooke set him up. Who knows?

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Keef, I see the 9–11 Commission saying that whatever Berger did it in no way impacted their investigation so either this was not a cover-up, or else it was an uncommonly stupid cover-up that involved leaving the original documents in the archives. To be clear, though, mucking around like this with classified documents is illegal even if there’s no malicious intent. Just as John Deutsch. Meanwhile, no one seems to have appreciated my Holbrooke set-up joke, even though he seems to be the only one who’s benefitting from all this.

UPDATE II: In all seriousness, Holbrooke really is the big beneficiary here and that’s a good thing. He’d be the better Secretary of State. Now the only thing standing between him and the job is Joe Biden and the question is what can Holbrooke do to get the nation more focused on the problem of stamping out plagiarism. . . .