(CNSNews.com) - Reports that former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stuffed top-secret documents into his pants and socks made the story bigger than it is, said a former member of the Clinton administration on Wednesday.
"Every story like this needs that juicy detail, the visual, and that's what gave this [story] the legs yesterday, said George Stephanopoulos in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America.
"Part of it is that it's about the war on terror; part of it is Sandy Berger's position in the [Kerry] campaign; part of it is the timing -- but without those socks, this thing wouldn't have taken off like it did yesterday," he said with a smile.
Stephanopoulos is a former adviser to Bill Clinton. According to his ABC News biography, he "was involved in the development of virtually all major policy initiatives during Clinton's first term in office." He now hosts the ABC politics program, This Week.
The report of pants- and socks-stuffing is "absolutely false," said Berger's attorney Lanny Breuer on Wednesday. In several network news appearances, he said that Berger has acknowledged putting notes in his coat pocket and his pants pocket -- but never stuffing them down his pants or socks.
Breuer told ABC News that not once in the past ten months has "anyone from the Department of Justice or the Archives ever made any kind of a representation of that, or claim like that, to me. It just didn't happen," he said.
Sandy Berger has called the removal of top-secret information from a secure Archives reading room "sloppiness" and an "honest mistake."
But many Republican see his actions as a breach of national security with potentially serious implications; a possible attempt to whitewash the Clinton administration's handling of terrorism; and a shocking lapse of judgment.
In an NBC interview Wednesday morning, Berger's attorney said the Justice Department has never once indicated that Berger's actions constituted a serious breach of national security.
"From the very start, the Department of Justice has told us they couldn't be more pleased with the way Sandy Berger and I've been handling this matter," Lanny Breuer said. "It's an inadvertent mistake; we've acknowledged it was an inadvertent mistake; there've been no secrets.
"All we ask is that the Department of Justice and the administration deal with this in the same serious and good-faith manner.
And then suddenly yesterday for the very first time, these kind of very dramatic and absolutely false accusations are being made."
Breuer said he has no idea who leaked the information about Berger. But he said the timing is suspicious -- coming "days before the 9/11 commission report comes out."
He indicated that he and Berger have lived up to their part of the bargain to treat the matter "responsibly," while the Justice Department apparently has not.
Breuer said Berger never intended to keep damning information away from the 9/11 commission.
He said the memo in question was written by Richard Clarke, the man who wrote a book blasting the Bush administration for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Sandy Berger asked Clarke to draft the memo after the millennium. Breuer called it a "credit to Berger" that he asked Clarke to take a critical look at what could have been done better on terrorism threats around the millennium.
Breuer said the original copy of the memo never left the Archives. "Any notion that this document that was inadvertently taken, was taken for some purpose is (a) false, and secondly, it's shameful, in my view, that people make such accusations about Sandy Berger, a man who's really devoted his entire life to public service and to the safety and security of the United States."
Breuer said suggestions that Berger stuffed documents in his pants and socks are "scurrilous" and "character assassination."
He said Sandy Berger's decision to step down as the Kerry campaign's adviser was entirely his own idea.
The story, which played on page A-2 of Tuesday's Washington Post and at the bottom of page A-16 in Tuesday's New York Times, made the front page of both newspapers on Wednesday.