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June 05, 2007

Sandy Berger's Unpunished National Security Crimes

Just to get your blood boiling in light of the remarkable 2 1/2 year sentence for Scooter Libby, bear in mind Sandy Berger walked off with probation, a fine, and a temporary loss of his security clearance (which he'll have back in time to serve Hillary! as NSA), despite lying far more egregiously than Scooter Libby ever dreamed of.

President Clinton designated Berger as his representative to the 9/11 Commission and related hearings, which gave Berger special access to highly classified documents in the National Archives relating to the Clinton Administration's handling of al-Qaeda and similar terror threats. Berger got around rules requiring that the documents only be reviewed with Archives' employees present, purposefully stole documents, destroyed them, and lied about it all. When caught, he first blamed Archives employees for misplacing the documents, then admitted having taken them inadvertently (this is the point at which he cut the plea deal), and finally acknowledged what was obvious from the facts that were emerging - he intentionally removed and destroyed documents.

Justice Department officials who investigated the missing documents initially were persuaded that Berger must, as he claimed, have taken documents by mistake and then destroyed them to avoid having sensitive material in his possession. The plea agreement was based on the assumption that Berger was mishandling classified material - not manhandling it.

Now, however, it is clear that there was nothing innocent or inadvertent in Berger's conduct. He has something to hide and, whatever it is, he was terrified that at least some part of it would come out of a non-criminal hearing before the Bar. With no possible criminal charges to face, he could not have claimed a right against self-incrimination. He could no longer get away with saying that he took documents accidentally, took them only to prepare for up-coming hearings (why, then, take five copies of one memo?), or didn't intend to destroy them. He would, in other words, have had to say more than he has so far.

We don't know with any certainty what is missing, which papers exactly are gone, or what notes - and whose notes - may have been on them. Berger's lawyer asserted that the 9/11 Commission had copies of all the material Berger stole and destroyed. But if that is so, why would Berger risk so much to destroy it and be so keen today on avoiding any real inquiry into what he did?

Ron Cass emphasizes the fact that Berger surrendered his law license rather than answer these questions at a bar inquiry. If he could answer truthfully, why surrender something so precious?


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