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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The return of Sandy Berger

Newsweek reports that one of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy advisors now is Sandy Berger.
The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization).
That is simply amazing. Let us remember what Sandy Berger did. As Jonathan Adler summarizes,
For those who forget, Berger repeatedly stole and destroyed classified documents, resulting in the temporary loss of his security clearance. Berger has never provided a plausible explanation for his actions. By voluntarily giving up his law license, he avoided a cross-examination from bar counsel, so we still do not know precisely what he was doing and why. Indeed, the only assurance that Berger did not destroy unique copies of classified national security documents — such as copies of reports containing notations in the margins and the like — comes from Berger himself, something that the 9/11 Commission was not told when it was preparing its report
The Inspector General's report on Sandy Berger's actions revealed that this wasn't any inadvertent mixup.
Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that National Archives employees spotted Berger bending down and fiddling with something white around his ankles.

The employees did not feel at the time there was enough information to confront someone of Berger's stature, the report said.

Later, when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he lied by saying he did not take them, the report said.

Brachfeld's report included an investigator's notes, taken during an interview with Berger. The notes dramatically described Berger's removal of documents during an Oct. 2, 2003, visit to the Archives.

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

"He headed toward a construction area. ... Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone," the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

"He was aware of the risk he was taking," the inspector general's notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

In October 2003, the report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator's notes said, "Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught."

The notes said that Berger had "destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash."
He got away with a minimal sentence, losing his security clearance for three years, paying a fine, and doing community service. The Bush Justice Department arranged this easy plea deal despite knowing that a former National Security Advisor had stolen and destroyed documents dealing with the hunt for Bin Laden before 9/11 that the 9/11 Commission was interested in seeing. The claim was that the Archives had copies of all the documents that Berger took, but we don't know that. Richard Miniter has unidentified information that the documents that Berger took and destroyed were the only copies of a report on proposals of what to do about Bin Laden that had Bill Clinton's handwritten notes on them.
My informed sources suggest that what Berger destroyed were copies of the Millennium After-Action Review, a binder-sized report prepared by Richard Clarke in 2000—a year and half before the 9-11 attacks. The review made a series of recommendations for a tougher stance against bin Laden and terrorism. There are 13 or more copies of this report. But only one contains hand-written notes by President Bill Clinton. Apparently, in the margin beside the recommendations, Bill Clinton wrote NO, NO, NO next to many of the tougher policy proposals.

You can see why Clinton might be happy to see these records vanish down the memory hole.

So Berger was stuffing in pants and socks and later shredding the evidence that President Clinton did not want to take a tougher line on bin Laden, following the 1998 attack on two U.S. embassies that killed 224 people (including 12 American diplomats).
And we don't actually know whether there are copies of what he destroyed because we don't know for sure what he took.
But Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., outgoing chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he's not convinced that the Archives can account for all the documents taken by Berger. Davis said working papers of National Security Council staff members are not inventoried by the Archives.

"There is absolutely no way to determine if Berger swiped any of these original documents. Consequently, there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all required materials," Davis said.
And now this guy who destroyed documents that would have helped the 9/11 Commission in its study of what the Clinton administration had done in hunting Bin Laden is back in the Clintons' good graces and one of Hillary's advisors. How convenient. As Beldar points out, John Kerry knew to disassociate himself from Berger when this story broke. But time seems to have healed all wounds and even though the man doesn't have the security clearance now, he would by the time Clinton could be sworn in.

Would the media be silent if a leading Republican candidate had signed up Scooter Libby as an adviser?

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