The Inexplicable Sandy Berger
Vol: 61 Issue: 24 Tuesday, October 24, 2006
It’s been a couple of years since the world forgot that a highly-placed member of the Clinton administration stuffed documents relevant to the 9/11 attacks down his pants and sneaked them out of the National Archives.
I keep waiting for somebody to get curious about what those never-recovered documents had to say. They must have been pretty important for the former National Security Advisor to the United States to steal.
And then to lie to federal investigators about stealing them afterwards, which is another major federal crime. We are talking a major federal crime.
It was lying to investigators that sent Martha Stewart to the pokey. It turned out that Stewart lied to investigators about a stock transaction worth $40,000 — play money to billionaire Stewart.
And the action Stewart was convicting of lying about wasn’t even illegal. Martha went to jail for the lie, not the crime she lied about.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and one of the most important policy-makers in the Bush administration.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury and resigned in disgrace. The grand jury indicted him for lying under oath about his involvement in the leaking of the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame.
Libby wasn’t the leak. And we now know that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald KNEW Libby wasn’t the leaker before he even called Libby to testify. And Fitzgerald also knew that the ‘crime’ being covered up wasn’t a crime at all.
But Libby remains under federal indictment on charges of lying to investigators about a crime that was never committed by an investigator who knew he was not guilty when he began the investigation.
So lying to federal investigators is, as I said, a big deal in Washington. Lying to investigators put President Clinton in the dock at the Senate and put the country through the agony of the impeachment proceedings.
It was the lie that put Clinton there, not the ‘crime’ he was covering up. His political supporters forgave him the crime, dismissing it as something ‘everybody lies about’.
But Clinton lost his law license in his home state, the highest rebuke possible in the legal profession. He was convicted of lying to a grand jury and lost the civil suit brought against him by Paula Jones.
Despite Clinton’s continuing popularity among Democrats, Clinton will never enjoy the post-presidential career he’d hoped for. He will be forever tarnished, popular, but polarizing.
Bill Clinton is living a politician’s nightmare; he will always be remembered for the worst thing he ever did.
Sandy Berger used his position of trust as a former Cabinet official to steal highly-classified documents from the National Archives.
He was so startled by the documents he discovered that he actually stuffed them down his pants and walked out with them.
It is important to keep in mind what Berger was doing in the National Archives. He was assigned to review documents relevant to the September 11 attacks and report back to the 9/11 investigating committee.
The documents Berger took each copy of the millennium report is said to be in the range of 15 to 30 pages were highly secret. They were classified at what is known as the “code word” level, which is the government’s highest tier of secrecy.
Berger homed in on a single document: the so-called “after-action report” on the Clinton administration’s handling of the millennium plot of 1999/2000. Berger is said to have taken multiple copies of the same paper.
He is also said to have taken those copies on at least two different days.
There have been no reports that he took any other documents, which suggests that his choice of papers was quite specific, and not the result of simple carelessness.
So his theft can only be construed as an attempt to alter the historical record on terrorism. And when questioned, he lied to investigators.
He said he ‘inadvertenly’ took the papers home.
“In the course of reviewing over several days thousands of pages of documents on behalf of the Clinton administration in connection with requests by the September 11 commission, I inadvertently took a few documents from the Archives,” Berger said in a written statement.
“When I was informed by the Archives that there were documents missing, I immediately returned everything I had except for a few documents that I apparently had accidentally discarded.”
When Berger pleaded guilty, he admitted he knowingly hid his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants in order to sneak them out of the Archives. He also admitted he cut up the missing documents with scissors.
Despite both the crime and the coverup, Berger was fined $50,000.00 plus community service and probation. He served no jail time. Because he pleaded out to a misdemeanor, Berger has no felony conviction on his record.
His security clearance was only suspended until 2008 — meaningless to a partisan Democrat during a Republican administration.
Nobody knows for sure what documents Berger took. We only know what documents Berger admitted to taking.
And since he STOLE them in the first place, what logic is there in declaring the case ‘closed’ on Berger’s word?
Finally, two years after the fact, and after the administration has been soundly beaten with the 9/11 Commission’s final report (without the stolen and possibly, exclupatory, information) a group of ten House Republicans are wondering, “What did Sandy Berger stuff down his pants?”
They asked the House Government Reform Committee to determine whether any documents were missing from Clinton administration terrorism records, to review security measures for classified documents and to seek testimony from Berger.
(It is worthy of noting that not ONE of the Democrats who were calling for Scooter Libby’s blood joined them.)
The request is ‘under review’ by the House Government Reform Committee. (In other words, it depends on who has the majority in the House — and on the Committee — after the mid-term elections.)
Meanwhile, Scooter Libby is still under indictment. Martha Stewart is a convicted felon.
But Sandy Berger is hosting fund-raising dinners for political races, doing cable TV appearances, and advising political campaigns.
In two years, he can cash in on his political favors and count on a prominent role in any subsequent Democratic administration. (Berger was a senior advisor to the Kerry campaign when the story broke, and Kerry was rumored to have offered him Secretary of State.)
It is inexplicable that Berger remains such a high roller on the national political scene. How did he manage to do it? And seemingly, get away with it?
The case is all but forgotten. The Bush administration couldn’t protect Scooter Libby.
All her popularity and money couldn’t protect Martha Stewart. But somebody was able to protect Sandy Berger. It is Orwellian. Who HAS that kind of power?
I don’t think we’ll know the answer to THAT question until we get the answer to the first one.
“What DID Sandy Berger stuff down his pants?”