What did Sandy Berger destroy?

Published 11:40 pm Thursday, January 4, 2007

If you forgot to make a New Year’s resolution, or are still trying to decide on one, let me suggest that you resolve to devote a little time this year to solving the mystery of Sandy Berger and the Destroyed Documents. Pressure on Berger is what is needed, and the united voices of several thousand outraged Americans would provide it.

Berger was President Clinton’s national security adviser, and therefore privy to the innermost thoughts and actions of Clinton and his aides on all national security matters. In 2003, the 9/11 Commission (co-chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana) was naturally curious as to what Berger might be able to tell them about Clinton’s actions concerning terrorist activities in the United States prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

To jog his memory before testifying, Berger spent several days in the National Archives in October 2003, browsing through documents of the period. Apparently something he found there disturbed him considerably, for he decided that certain documents — what The New York Times called “several versions of a classified report prepared in 2000 on the so-called millennium terrorist plots” — must never see the light of day.

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A new report by the inspector general of the National Archives has now provided fresh details on what thereupon happened. Apparently, someone at the Archives saw Berger behaving oddly, “fiddling with something white, which could have been paper, around his ankle.” Shortly thereafter Berger left the building for a walk after dark. Several days later, members of the Archive staff confronted him about four documents, which were missing.

Berger thereupon admitted that he had taken the missing documents with him when he left the building — a flagrant violation of law. (He denied, however, stuffing them in his socks, as the eyewitness had suggested. He explained that “his shoes frequently come untied and his socks frequently fall down.”) Berger added that he had returned to the building, but that first, making sure no one was watching, he slid the documents under a trailer at a nearby construction site. After finishing his browsing, he left the Archives again, retrieved the documents, and took them home. There he cut some of them into little bits and threw the bits away.

All of these actions were crimes. When they came to light in 2004, during the presidential campaign (in which Berger was an adviser to John Kerry), he was forced to resign from the campaign. A year later he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the thefts (rather than a felony, which they were) and was fined $50,000, but was spared prison.

Apologists for Berger argued that no harm was done, because other copies of the same reports were still in the possession of the commission. But that, of course, is preposterous. If Berger thought it necessary to destroy the reports, even though other copies of them were available to the commission, then what he wanted to destroy wasn’t the reports themselves but things their recipients (very probably including Clinton) had written on those particular copies.

What sorts of things would have impelled Berger to take the very serious risk of stealing those documents from the National Archives and cutting them to bits? Needles to say, Berger has never uttered a word on the subject. Today, his lawyer says Berger considers the matter closed and is seeking to move on.

Naturally! But it is as plain as a pikestaff that Berger was concealing, and is still concealing, evidence of grave derelictions by Clinton or his aides in connection with terrorist activities in the United States prior to 9/11.

(William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.)