Thursday, July 22, 2004

Berger's Pants Start To Unravel

Since the story broke that he took classified materials from the National Archive, Sandy Berger has maintained that it was an "honest mistake". After the accusations were made that he removed many of the documents by stuffing them in his pants or socks, Berger insisted that he had simply been "sloppy" and that any removal of documents was unintentional, save a few hand-written notes that he knew he had taken with him. He also maintained that the returned the information to the archives as soon as he was informed they were missing. His story never seemed plausible even though the Democrats were quick to get to their talking points, starting with a Bill Clinton interview for the Denver Post, in which he maintained that he had known about the investigation for months and that Berger was very "sloppy", to the point that he was not surprised by the story, but was sure Berger was telling the truth. He then went on to question the timing of the story, as had been done by David Gergen on the morning shows earlier in the day. The next day every Democrat associated with Sandy Berger was on TV repeating the word "sloppy" and was acting indignant over the timing of the story.

However the details of the story do not match the "sloppiness theory": Multiple versions of the same report had disappeared from the archives in multiple visits from the former National Security Adviser, the National Archives staff had witnessed Berger putting documents in various articles of clothing, he had knowingly taken some notes that he wasn't supposed to, but the rest was unintentional.

Last night, as Democrats continued to fume about the timing, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert called for hearings into the missing information. This morning the Washington Post has an article that claim that the archive staff had become so suspicious of Berger's activity that they mounted their own "mini-sting" to catch Berger removing the documents:

The government source said the Archives employees were deferential toward Berger, given his prominence, but were worried when he returned to view more documents on Oct. 2. They devised a coding system and marked the documents they knew Berger was interested in canvassing, and watched him carefully. They knew he was interested in all the versions of the millennium review, some of which bore handwritten notes from Clinton-era officials who had reviewed them. At one point an Archives employee even handed Berger a coded draft and asked whether he was sure he had seen it.

At the end of the day, Archives employees determined that that draft and all four or five other versions of the millennium memo had disappeared from the files, this source said.

Four or five versions of the same document, some of which contained hand written notes from Clinton-era officials? The September 11th commission, which released it's final report on the hijackings today, has stated that it had all the information it needed, and that the Berger case would not have had an impact on the report. Did the commission have access to the versions of the report that contained hand-written notes? Also this morning, James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News, reports that although Berger was supposed to be monitored the entire time he had documents, he convinced his monitors to leave their posts so he could make private phone calls. He also made many trips to the restroom. Both of these apparently helped to rouse the suspicion of the staff:

"He was supposed to be monitored at all times but kept asking the monitor to leave so he could make private calls," a senior law enforcement source told the Daily News.

Berger also took "lots of bathroom breaks" that aroused some suspicion, the source added. It is standard procedure to constantly monitor anyone with a security clearance who examines the type of code-word classified files stored in the underground archives vault.

The article also states that an employee of the archive saw Berger putting hand written notes in his socks:

The same archives monitors told the FBI Berger was observed stuffing his socks with handwritten notes about files he reviewed that were going to the Sept. 11 panel. It is prohibited to make notes about the secret files and leave with them without special approval.

This morning in The Weekly Standard, Hugh Hewitt (buy his new book, "If It's Not Close They Can't Cheat - Crushing the Democrats in every Election and Why Your Life Depends On It) explains the significance of the fact that these reports are said to have contained hand written notes by principals in the Clinton Administration, and puts that issue in historical context by juxtaposing it with another "gap" in information that we are all familiar with, the 18 minute gap in the famous tapes from the Watergate investigation:

Washington has had to judge gaps in the record before. "[A] few minutes missing from a non-subpoenaed tape hardly seemed worth a second thought," Richard Nixon wrote in his memoir of his reaction on first learning that Rose Mary Woods had deleted a portion of the famous tapes. Nixon would conclude "most people think that my inability to explain the 18 and 1/2-minute gap is the most unbelievable and insulting part of the whole of Watergate." Imaginations ran wild, and Nixon's credibility never recovered.

Now crucial drafts of an important report are missing, and no one has reported if exact duplicates--not "copies"--have been found. Unless and until "red-lined" versions of the previous and following drafts are produced and compared to the "missing" drafts, we will never know what vanished from the record in Berger's pants. Could it have been a reference to Osama's flight from Sudan, or a warning of airplanes as missiles? No one can know unless some other repository existed for all of the drafts, and only if copies of all handwritten notes exist in that same file. The trouble with widely circulated papers is that principals make handwritten notations on all of them, which are then returned to the central record keeper. Every "copy" is an original if a note has been made in the margin.

It does not seem plausible that a former National Security Adviser could inadvertently walk out of the National Archives with several versions of the same report. Especially with the new details that are emerging regarding the steps taken by the staff to monitor Berger and his suspicious activities. Sandy Berger knew the potential consequences of taking classified material, yet he was willing to take the risk on more than one occasion to ensure that certain material was purged from the record and out of the hands of the September 11th commission. The obvious question is: What could the papers have contained that would make the risk of prison time worth removing them? Sandy Berger maintains that he "accidentally discarded" several versions of the reports after he took them home. If there is no record of the documents and their hand written notes, the public may never know the true story. This is a tragedy considering it is possible that the information that Sandy Berger purged may have had a direct impact on the report being issued by the September 11th commission. Sandy Berger should be investigated, the House should hold hearings and the government should make every effort to piece the information back together for the sake of the public.

The Clinton years brought us scandal after scandal, and as we spent time investigating them, and as the Clinton team rehearsed their talking points, the terrorist threat grew and was unchallenged, even after previous attacks. The law enforcement approach to terror taken by the Clinton administration and put forth by the Kerry campaign proved to be disastrous. Whether Berger was "sloppy" or he intentionally destroyed information damning to the Clinton "legacy" this scandal proves one thing, the Democrats cannot be trusted to run the country in a time of war. Let's not forget that Berger was a top adviser to John Kerry, and before the story broke he was set to get a cabinet position in a Kerry administration. The attitude that leads to documents being taken by a former National Security Adviser are not relegated to one man, but to an entire party that has become incapable of defending the country. The current Democratic party is led by radicals that came of age during the Vietnam War. Their attitudes and actions in foreign policy and national security are direct reflections of that time, and they are incompatible with the defense of the country. Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, Al Gore, Howard Dean or John Kerry - it makes no difference. The United states cannot afford another eight years of an administration whose first reaction is to hide threats to the nation or to their legacy down their pants.