Sandy Berger to Plead Guilty To Taking Classified Paper

WaPo fronts word that former Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is expected to plead guilty to stealing and destroying classified documents related to the war on terrorism. Oddly, this is a misdemeanor.

Berger Will Plead Guilty To Taking Classified Paper (WaPo, A1)

Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, a former White House national security adviser, plans to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and will acknowledge intentionally removing and destroying copies of a classified document about the Clinton administration’s record on terrorism. Berger’s plea agreement, which was described yesterday by his advisers and was confirmed by Justice Department officials, will have one of former president Bill Clinton’s most influential advisers and one of the Democratic Party’s leading foreign policy advisers in a federal court this afternoon.

The deal’s terms make clear that Berger spoke falsely last summer in public claims that in 2003 he twice inadvertently walked off with copies of a classified document during visits to the National Archives, then later lost them. He described the episode last summer as “an honest mistake.” Yesterday, a Berger associate who declined to be identified by name but was speaking with Berger’s permission said: “He recognizes what he did was wrong. . . . It was not inadvertent.” Under terms negotiated by Berger’s attorneys and the Justice Department, he has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and accept a three-year suspension of his national security clearance. These terms must be accepted by a judge before they are final, but Berger’s associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003. Lanny Breuer, Berger’s attorney, said in a statement: “Mr. Berger has cooperated fully with the Department of Justice and is pleased that a resolution appears very near. He accepts complete responsibility for his actions, and regrets the mistakes he made during his review of documents at the National Archives.”

The terms of Berger’s agreement required him to acknowledge to the Justice Department the circumstances of the episode. Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business.

The document, written by former National Security Council terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, was an “after-action review” prepared in early 2000 detailing the administration’s actions to thwart terrorist attacks during the millennium celebration. It contained considerable discussion about the administration’s awareness of the rising threat of attacks on U.S. soil. Archives officials have said previously that Berger had copies only, and that no original documents were lost. It remains unclear whether Berger knew that, or why he destroyed three versions of a document but left two other versions intact. Officials have said the five versions were largely similar, but contained slight variations as the after-action report moved around different agencies of the executive branch.

I was willing to give Berger the benefit of the doubt on this given his long record of public service when it appeared to be an impulsive grab. Now, it’s rather clear that he purposefully stole the documents and deliberately destroyed them. Had this been a young staff sergeant or GS-7, he would be doing hard time in prison. This is a shameful episode.

See also the NYT account.


  • One of Glenn Reynolds‘ readers wants to know why Martha Stewart went to jail and Berger isn’t.
  • Kevin Drum: Bizarre and inexplicable.
  • Betsy Newmark wonders, “If someone went into a jewelry store and stole five necklaces, and then destroyed them because they were all the same, wouldn’t that still be robbery?”
  • Bill Hobbs: “What did John Kerry know and when did he know it?”
  • Jim Geraghy: “Just what do you have to do to get your clearance pulled permanently?”
  • John Hinderaker: “Key documents relating to our government’s inadequate reaction to the threat of Islamic terrorism prior to Sept. 11 are now gone forever, successfully purged from the historical record by one of Bill Clinton’s most loyal servants.”
  • Michelle Malkin points to a commenter at Roger L. Simon’s who posits, “It is becoming clear to me it’s the handwritten marginalia at issue, not the versions

Rather clearly, this was an attempt to cover something up. What, exactly, I haven’t the foggiest. Previous to this incident, Berger had, so far as I was aware (and I follow national security policy rather closely) an impeccable reputation for integrity. The loss of that will surely hurt more than the $10,000 fine.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Copper says:

    Isn’t it amazing that no one who is high up in the Government ever gets prosecuted for their misdeeds.

  2. Bob M says:

    More proof that coverups really do work! The ones we know about that didn’t work–famously, Watergate, and to a lesser extent, Monica-gate–is a biased sample of all coverups. The ones that worked best we still don’t know about, and never will. The only good thing is that there are more eyes and ears around, and the odds that a coverup will fail are a bit lower now (maybe from 95% to 90%, may 30% to 15%–we don’t have the data to know!).

  3. Joseph Carlet says:

    Makes me wonder who will pay his fine? Hmmm, follow the money??

  4. Maggie says:

    $10,000. that’s chump change….figuring what he’ll probably get in upfront money for his book deal.

  5. Just some guy says:

    His lawyers cost much more than the fine he received. Oops, they aren’t HIS lawyers, are they? Ever wonder why the same three attorneys always pop up in these sleazy escapades?

    You are absolutely correct, an unconnected individual would be facing a trial or plea that guaranteed serious time in a P.Y.I.T.A. Federal prison. Instead, Berger walks.

    Has anyone actually taken a moment to look up a person from Westlaw convicted of the same offense? Might be nice to compare and contrast how the mighty are treated versus the rest of us.

  6. Dodd says:

    Just some guy: I listed some cases from the past in my post on this (Ipse Dixit Trackback above) in which each person involved got jail time. The closest example is this one:

    1988 – David Fleming, Navy Chief Petty Officer, Chief photographer aboard the submarine La Jolla, was convicted for the theft of 16 Secret photographs and four classified training manuals found in his apartment. “Fleming contended that cramped quarters aboard the ship led him to develop photographs at home. Concluding that he knew that the materials, if kept at home, could result in damage to national security, the court convicted Fleming under statutes which apply to acts of espionage. However, no evidence was presented to the court that the Chief Petty Officer had intended to provide classified materials to representatives of another country.” He was sentenced to four years confinement and given a bad conduct discharge from the Navy; he served about 1 1/2 years.

    Note the differences. CPO Fleming was not suspected of even intending to do anything wrong with the TS documents in question apart from the security breach itself and got charged with Espionage. Berger admitted not only taking the documents but destroying them and got to cop a plea for a misdemeanor.

  7. Rod Stanton says:

    Sandy got a very weak plea bargan from W’s guys. He will do no hard time and pay a trivial fine! W has gone soft. Sandy should be spending the next 15 years making little rocks out of big rocks.

  8. Rod Stanton says:

    Sandy should be making little rocks out of big ones for the next 15 years. Bush is too soft.