Sandy Berger: What Did He Take and Why Did He Take It?
By Ronald A. Cass
Some things cry out for explanation. Like finding $90,000 in marked bills in a Congressman's freezer. Or finding out that a blue-chip lawyer who held one of the most important jobs in the nation was willing to risk his career, his livelihood, and his liberty to steal, hide, and destroy classified documents.
We all have a pretty good idea what the money was doing in Representative William Jefferson's freezer. But the questions about President William Jefferson Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, just keep piling up.
It's time we got some answers.
According to reports from the Inspector General of the National Archives and the staff of the House of Representatives' Government Operations Committee, Mr. Berger, while acting as former President Clinton's designated representative to the commission investigating the attacks of September 11, 2001, illegally took confidential documents from the Archives on more than one occasion. He folded documents in his clothes, snuck them out of the Archives building, and stashed them under a construction trailer nearby until he could return, retrieve them, and later cut them up. After he was caught, he lied to the investigators and tried to shift blame to Archive employees.
Contrary to his initial denials and later excuses, Berger clearly intended from the outset to remove sensitive material from the Archives. He used the pretext of making and receiving private phone calls to get time alone with confidential material, although rules governing access dictated that someone from the Archives staff must be present. He took bathroom breaks every half-hour to provide further opportunity to remove and conceal documents.
Before this information was released, the Justice Department, accepting his explanation of innocent and accidental removal of the documents, allowed Berger to enter a plea to the misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material - no prison time, no loss of his bar license. The series of actions that the Archives and House investigations detail, however, are entirely at odds with protestations of innocence. Nothing about his actions was accidental. Nothing was casual. And nothing was normal.
What could have been important enough for Berger to take the risks he did? What could have been important enough for a lawyer of his distinction to risk disgrace, disbarment, and prison?
To paraphrase the questions asked of Richard Nixon by members of his own Party, what did he take and why did he take it?