Congressman: Berger theft case is much more damaging than reported
Samuel R. Berger’s theft of documents from the National Archives compromised national security “much more than originally disclosed” and resulted in “incomplete and misleading” information being given to the September 11 commission, says the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
“It is now also clear that Mr. Berger was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to compromise national security, apparently for his own convenience,” Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said on Jan. 9.
“No one ever told the commission Mr. Berger had access to original documents he could have taken without detection.”
In October, Mr. Davis led an effort by House Republicans to investigate and hold hearings on which documents might have been “destroyed, removed or were missing” after visits to the National Archives by Mr. Berger, President Clinton’s national security adviser from 1997 to 2001.
Mr. Davis said the investigation found that the full extent of Mr. Berger’s document removal can never be known and, conse-
quently, the Justice Department could not assure the September 11 commission — which was investigating intelligence and security failures — it received all the documents to which Mr. Berger had access.
“We now know Mr. Berger left stolen highly classified documents at aconstructionsitetoavoiddetection,” hesaid.“WeknowMr.Bergerinsisted on privacy at times to allow him to conceal documents that he stole.”
Mr. Davis noted that during three visitstotheArchives,Mr.Bergerwas given access to working papers of NationalSecurityCouncilstaffmembers, including Mr. Berger, and their content was not inventoried by the Archives at the document level. He said Mr. Berger focused solely on original documents during his first twovisitsandtherewas“nowaytodetermine” whether he “swiped any of these original documents.”
The National Archives Office of Inspector General reported last monththatMr.Bergerhiddocuments under a construction trailer where they could be retrieved later.
Lanny Breuer, Mr. Berger’s attorney, said the matter was thoroughly investigated by the Justice Departmentformorethantwoyearsandeffectively closed for more than a year. Hesaidthereport’sconclusionswere based on “pure conjecture.”
“Not a single fact is offered to support them,” Mr. Breuer said.
“Sandy Berger made a mistake. But he has admitted that mistake, fully cooperated with the govern- ment’s investigation, paid his debt to society, and moved on. It’s time for thenewcongressionalminoritytodo the same.”
Mr. Davis described the Justice Department’s assertion that Mr. Berger’s statements were credible afterbeingcaughtas“misplaced.”He said, “One wouldn’t rely on the fox to be truthful after being nabbed in the henhouse. But the Justice Department apparently did.”
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the department “hasnoevidencethatSandyBerger’s actionsdeprivedthe9/11commission ofdocuments,andwestandbyourinvestigation of this matter.”
Mr.BergerpleadedguiltyinApril 2005 to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, including documents outlining the government’s knowledge of terrorist threats to the United States.
He was fined $50,000 and barred from access to classified material for three years. He had faced a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, but a plea agreement with the Justice Department reduced the fine and kept him out of prison.