Berry Heads NCTA Government Office

Steven K. Berry, a longtime Republican operative in the House, Senate, and State Department who had a brush with political scandal a decade ago, was named last week as senior vice president of government relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Berry, a 51-year-old lawyer and current senior vice president of government affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, will begin work at the trade group on Jan. 2, reporting directly to NCTA president Robert Sachs.

Has GOP Ties

Berry replaces Pamela Turner, who left NCTA last March to become Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Tom Ridge.

Berry could be a key Republican pipeline to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Commerce Committee chairman, and other congressional Republicans who have grown increasingly concerned about cable pricing and packaging.

"Steve brings to NCTA exceptional experience as both a representative of a well-respected trade association and senior staffer in Congress and the executive branch," said Sachs. "As the telecommunications market grows more competitive and challenging, Steve's talents and knowledge will be vital to our continuing efforts to educate members of Congress and the administration about cable's commitment to quality, service and investment in new technologies."

Berry was a close aide to Sen. Jesse Helms when the conservative North Carolina Republican headed the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations in the mid 1990s. Helms retired from politics a few years ago.

According to an NCTA statement, Berry has been chief counsel and director of international operations and European affairs for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the U.S. State Department; Republican chief of staff for the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Republican counsel for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Late in 1992, while working at the State Department, Berry was involved in a scandal that erupted over the search of old passport records the department retained on President Clinton, then the Arkansas governor and Democratic presidential nominee running against President George H.W. Bush.

State Department inspector general Sherman Funk found that Berry and other department officials used their position to find negative information about Clinton, who was coming under political fire on the campaign trail for trips he took as a student to the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. The Privacy Act prohibits disclosure of the State Department's passport files. Violations are a misdemeanor.

Funk's conclusions were based in part on notes taken by State Department operators who monitored Berry's calls.

But a judge ruled that the call monitoring was illegal and that independent counsel Joseph E. diGenova could not gain access to the operators' notes, according to The Washington Post.

A source Monday disputed the Post's account, saying that diGenova did in fact gain access to the call records.

DiGenova, who spent a year investigating the matter, refused to prosecute Berry. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit later awarded Berry $216,377 for legal fees. The court concluded he was entitled to the money because he had been a target of the investigation, but was not charged with a crime. Berry also received a letter of exoneration and an apology from diGenova.

Berry joins the cable industry as action on Capitol Hill winds down for the year. Cable's 2004 agenda is likely to focus on legislative efforts, if any, to require unbundling of cable programming into mini-tiers or à la carte offerings.

Lawmakers are also likely to begin exploring possible regulatory burdens on cable companies that provide voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service.