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.
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.