Oct. 20, 2010— -- When you're President of the United States, you can lose a vote, you can lose popular support, and you can lose a round of golf. But you're never, ever supposed to lose the biscuit.
That's what they call the card the president is meant to keep close at hand, bearing the codes that he has to have in order to launch a nuclear attack. And for several months during the Clinton administration, a former top military officer says they lost the biscuit.
Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.
Gen. Hugh Shelton, who served under Clinton as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells the story in his just-published memoir, "Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior."
"At one point during the Clinton administration," Shelton writes, "the codes were actually missing for months. [...] That's a big deal -- a gargantuan deal."
Shelton claims the story has never been released before, but Ret. Air Force Lt. Col Robert Patterson told a very similar account in his own book, published seven years ago.
Patterson was one of the men who carried the football, and he says it was literally the morning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke that he made a routine request of the president to present the card so that he could swap it out for an updated version.
"He thought he just placed them upstairs," Patterson recalled. "We called upstairs, we started a search around the White House for the codes, and he finally confessed that he in fact misplaced them. He couldn't recall when he had last seen them."
In Patterson's telling of the story, the President lost the biscuit in 1998, but according to Shelton, the card went missing in 2000.
President Sends the 'Biscuit' to the Cleaners?
If the facts seem murky, that's not unusual when national security matters are involved. Consider the old story that Jimmy Carter left his biscuit in a suit that got sent to the dry cleaners. Today, no one will confirm the story, but no one will deny it either.