Sandy Berger & Clintonian Ethics

Do you remember how the nation was lectured during the 1990’s on how there was no connection between private ethics and public life? How Bill Clinton could do what whatever he wanted in his private life but, rest assured, it had no connection to his behavior as President?


Power Line states:

Casual readers of the news will have no idea what to make of Sandy Berger’s guilty plea. This AP story says:

Former national security adviser Sandy Berger, who once had unfettered access to the government’s most sensitive secrets, pleaded guilty Friday to sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives, then using scissors to cut up some of them.
Rather than the “honest mistake” he described last summer, Berger acknowledged to U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson that he intentionally took and deliberately destroyed three copies of the same document dealing with terror threats during the 2000 millennium celebration. He then lied about it to Archives staff when they told him documents were missing…

The AP describes the Berger incident as “bizarre,” and, to an ordinary reader, it must seem bizarre indeed. Why would anyone steal and destroy “three copies of the same document,” and then lie about it?
The answer, obviously, is that all of the “copies” were different, in that they contained different handwritten notes by various Clinton administration officials, apparently including Berger. This Washington Post story is slightly more informative:

Berger’s associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003.
Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business.
The document, written by former National Security Council terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, was an “after-action review” prepared in early 2000 detailing the administration’s actions to thwart terrorist attacks during the millennium celebration. It contained considerable discussion about the administration’s awareness of the rising threat of attacks on U.S. soil.
Archives officials have said previously that Berger had copies only, and that no original documents were lost. It remains unclear whether Berger knew that, or why he destroyed three versions of a document but left two other versions intact. Officials have said the five versions were largely similar, but contained slight variations as the after-action report moved around different agencies of the executive branch.

So Berger removed five copies of the Clarke report, carefully destroyed three of them “late one evening,” and returned the other two to the Archives. Obviously he reviewed the notes on the five documents and destroyed the three that contained information damaging to the reputation of the Clinton administration. I do not find reassuring the Post’s suggestion that these were “copies only” and that it “remains unclear whether Berger knew that.” Obviously all five copies of the Clarke report were “copies.” But they contained unique notes, and Berger certainly thought that they were the only “copies” of those notes in existence, or it would make no sense to destroy them. I have seen no evidence whatsoever that he was wrong.
One aspect of Berger’s sentence that seems almost humorous is the fact that his security clearance is suspended for three years. He wasn’t going to need it during President Bush’s second term, in any event, and he’ll have it back in time for the new Democratic administration that, he hopes, will begin in 2009. What a penalty for attempting, apparently successfully, to destroy a portion of the historical record relating to the government’s anti-terror activities in the months leading up to September 11.

Michelle Malkin comments in the following way:

…Why would Berger destroy documents if they were merely copies of originals retained by Archives? For that matter, how did he gain access to copies? (I’m assuming he was not given access to a copy machine.) Did the files he was looking at contain multiple identical copies of each document?
Something just doesn’t smell right…
Update: Last summer, a commenter at Roger L. Simon’s site put it well:

It is becoming clear to me it’s the handwritten marginalia at issue, not the versions, since these would probably be available from computers, etc.
Let’s think about who would have been penning things on these docs for a minute: Berger, Clarke, The Big He, Gorelick, Janet Reno, William Cohen. Loads of possibilities for embarrassing comments from that bunch.

Jim Geraghty comments:

The deal’s terms make clear that Berger spoke falsely last summer in public claims that in 2003 he twice inadvertently walked off with copies of a classified document during visits to the National Archives, then later lost them.
He described the episode last summer as “an honest mistake.” Yesterday, a Berger associate who declined to be identified by name but was speaking with Berger’s permission said: “He recognizes what he did was wrong. . . . It was not inadvertent.”
That all sounds pretty damning. But then you read the actual consequences:

Under terms negotiated by Berger’s attorneys and the Justice Department, he has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and accept a three-year suspension of his national security clearance. These terms must be accepted by a judge before they are final, but Berger’s associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003.

What? Just what do you have to do to get your clearance pulled permanently? Start the clock, he can go back and start deleting memos that make him and his colleagues look bad starting in 2008 or so!
The details of this story are even more damning:

Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business…

Now… what about this deafening silence that we have heard on this from Berger’s associates, since this story first surfaced? Will we be seeing any criticism of him from former President Clinton, Madeline Albright, Hillary, John Kerry, or any other prominent Democrat? Is the perception that this is no big deal, standard operating procedure for that White House, and is something to be swept under the rug?
Do any Democrats want to confront the unpleasant truths of how the Clinton White House handled terrorism?
Because there were some facts out there that were so damning, Sandy Berger was willing to break the law to make sure the public never saw them.

According to The Anchoress:

…this situation with Sandy Berger just stinks to high heaven, and I’m disgusted that case begun under the Ashcroft Justice Department and culminating on the watch of Alberto Gonzales has given Berger such a slap on the wrist for stealing and destroying top secret documents from the National Archives.
Again. The man STOLE Top Secret Documents, which purportedly were critical of the Clinton Administration’s handling of terrorism, from the National Archives. And ummm…he DESTROYED them.
And for this, he gets a measly $10,000 fine, and oh, yeah, he has to ADMIT he took them and perhaps go to a federal prison for a year.
He doesn’t even lose his security clearances, just has them Suspended for three years…
The press is all about “gathering and reporting” information, but they display a consistent and rather staggering lack of curiosity about exactly what the previous administration did or did not do regarding terrorism, intelligence, national security….or for that matter about much smaller matters like, who wrote the Document of Dubious Origin they have had such a delightful fortnight referring to as “The GOP Talking Points Memo on Terri Schiavo.”..
They’re terribly, terribly curious about the military service of George W. Bush – so curious they go talk to a dentist who cleaned his teeth thirty years ago, but completely incurious as to John Kerry’s unwillingness to sign a standard form 180 to release HIS medical records, even after people who served with him – even on his very swiftboat – raise substantial questions.
Ah, well…it seems the press is not terribly interested in finding out anything about you if your name is Berger or Clinton, or Kerry, or Clinton, or McCain, or Kennedy or Daschle…

Try to explain this episode to your children right after you next share a lesson with them on the importance of ethical behavior.
ADDENDUM I:
Dick Morris, adviser to President Clinton, offers this perspective on the Berger scandal.

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16 years ago

I most vigorously protest that my good name is being befouled by your despicable web site. I was in good faith promoting the federal government’s Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. Furthermore, my hamsters Teddy and Hillary were being paper trained and they don’t know how to read. So piss on all of you.
Sincerely yours,
S. Berger

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