You remember Sandy Berger’s pants, don’t you? The clown pants with the extra-deep pockets? The black hole for classified documents from the National Archives?
Well, the whole sordid story is out in the open now, and it’s even more appalling than it seemed at the time:
WASHINGTON — President Clinton’s national security adviser removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer and later tried to find the trash collector to retrieve them, the agency’s internal watchdog said Wednesday.
The report was issued more than a year after Sandy Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removing the documents.
A slap on the wrist is what he really received:
Berger pleaded guilty to unlawfully removing and retaining classified documents. He was fined $50,000, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and was barred from access to classified material for three years.
But never mind that for now. Here are the details of the Berger sleight-of-pocket:
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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.”
After the trash had been picked up, Berger “tried to find the trash collector but had no luck,” the notes said.
And there’s also this:
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.
Berger claims that he returned all the documents. But not everyone is so certain.
Berger’s lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said in a statement that the contents of all the documents exist today and were made available to the commission.
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.
Rep. Davis is right. But it doesn’t make any difference. Sandy Berger has Paid His Debt to Society. It’s Time to Move On.
My capacity for outrage at what high-ranking government officials can get away with (provided they’re Democrats) reached a saturation point many years ago.
Still, this one made the high-dudgeon muscle in my face twitch just a little bit.
Perjury. Destruction of classified documents. Abuse of power. Obstruction of justice.
Why is this man walking the streets when there are poor schmoes out there doing fifteen years of hard time just for having a bag of weed in their pockets?