July 23, 2004

One Berger, With Lies

The flap over Sandy Berger's Frequent Visitor program at the National Archives continues, and the finger-pointing by Democrats continues. The scripted attack line is that Republicans leaked the news of the Berger investigation to take some of the sting out of the 9/11 Commission Report and some of the light out of the upcoming DNC convention. Or both. In this, they have been ably assisted by many in the media, who would have us believe that the real scandal is all Republican.

The problem is, there's a total lack of evidence that the story was leaked by Republicans, and a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that the story was leaked by Berger's team. Even seasoned political observers have to cringe at the hypocrisy emanating from the Kerry campaign and the Democrats on this one.

The known basics: Former Clinton White House National Security Advisor Samuel "Sandy" Berger was deputized by Clinton to review documents at the National Archives in preparation for testifying to the 9/11 Commission. During the course of several visits, Berger asked NA employees to violate security procedures by leaving the room, so he could take and make "private phone calls." Apparently intimidated by Berger's status, some did so. Also contrary to NA rules and procedures, employees did not search the contents of Berger's leather portfolio case when he exited the viewing room. Documents were subsequently discovered missing, and NA employees began watching Berger more closely. He was observed placing documents in his clothing. The NA employees then began numbering and coding documents which Berger requested, and discovered that they were indeed not all returning to the secure files, but going missing in Berger's possession.

Then it gets a little murky. It is reported that Archives officials notified Clinton attorney Bruce Lindsey about the affair (something Linsey now denies) and that Berger then returned some, but not all, of the missing documents to the archives, along with some hand-written notes he had taken while in the viewing room and also removed contrary to procedure. A National Archives employee came to Berger's house to retrieve the documents still missing, and was told they could not be found. The FBI then came and searched Berger's house, finding some hand-written notes on the Middle East peace talks of the 1990's that also should not have been removed. 

All of this happened several months ago, in the fall of 2003. The documents in question, the items that kept coming up missing and roused NA staff suspicions to the point that they set up a "sting" on Berger, were drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration. These documents carried our nation's highest security classification, CODEWORD.

Some thoughts before continuing to discussion of the current flap.
First, the odds that Berger "inadvertently" removed these documents is zero, the odds that he did not know that his hand-written notes were supposed to be reviewed for content before leaving the room is also zero. He concealed them and removed them on purpose, knowing full well that he was committing felony violations of both NA procedure and national security law. As a former National Security Adviser it is simply not credible that he could NOT have known all of this. The lesson of John Deutch was fresh. You can't even get into the viewing rooms without signing papers acknowledging all of these things. And red-covered security documents of a few dozen pages do not blend in so well that they are repeatedly, on more than one occasion, "inadvertently" slipped into one's briefcase or folder--or one's clothing.

Second, it's ridiculous to assume that Berger had no reason for taking these documents. The question becomes what his reason or reasons were. Reports indicate that while the documents were all drafts of a single final document, they were not all identical. At a minimum, they were copies that contained hand-written notes and annotations from various Clinton administration staffers, including those of Berger and main author Richard Clarke. Or they may have been copies of various stages of the draft, showing how it evolved. Or both.

So it is reasonable to assume that Berger wanted some of those annotations or draft versions to disappear from the Archives, and was willing to commit serious crimes of national security to accomplish his purpose. Had he simply wanted a copy on which to base his upcoming testimony, one would have sufficed. The same reasoning applies if he wanted a copy to help guide Democrat campaign strategy. And indeed, some of the copies that Berger took have not been recovered. (It is also possible that the copies Berger returned had been altered, and/or that he had already susbstituted doctored copies in place of other Archive copies.)  In any case, Berger is in deep trouble, and it's not something that's just going to go away, as Deutch can tell him. Deutch's crime appeared to have been an honest error, a claim that Berger is going to find tough to sell, and it took a presidential pardon to get Deutch off the hook.

Onward to the "leak" flap. On July 19, this story appeared on the AP wire, revealing that Berger was under investigation for removing documents. Immediately Democrats from A to Z began claiming that the story had been leaked by the White House in order to overshadow the 9/11 Commission Report, due to come out in a few days, or the upcoming DNC convention. Or both.

The evidence that Republicans leaked this story? NONE. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. But Democrats from Bill Clinton to the Kerry campaign iteslf, along with many prominent "unbiased" media outlets, continue to point fingers at the Bush administration, trying to get the focus off of Sandy Berger.

The author of the original article has not said (and will not say) where the story came from. But there are some clues, some circumstantial evidence, that could point the way. And ALL of that evidence points in exactly one direction--at Sandy Berger and his advisers.

To begin with is the article itself, which tells the story almost exclusively from the mouth of Sandy Berger's attorney, Lanny Breuer. If the article was original investigative journalism, or had been leaked by a hostile GOP source, it would almost certainly contain something more damning than Berger's own "inadvertent mistake" mea culpa. It does not. In fact, it notes that the House Intelligence Committee had not yet been informed of the breach. That's one.

The reasoning that the news was leaked by Republicans to draw attention away from the 9/11 Commission report falls flat. The 9/11 report is actually very positive for the Bush administration, debunking almost all the spectacular claims made by the Frothing Left about Bush perfidy. The White House has had "vetting" copies of the report for weeks, plus the benefit of inside information from Republican Committee members, and knew this. Why would they want to cloud over it? Similarly, the proper timing for leaking this item in order to cloud the DNC convention would be during, or immediately after, the convention, not before it. In fact, the single most effective time to leak this news for GOP'ers would be right at the end, or shortly after, the GOP convention or in the last few weeks before the election. The timing of the news, which was bound to come out anyway, seems positioned to help (or at least do the minimum amount of damage to) Democrats, not Republicans. That's two.

Then we have the detail that Berger added Joe Lockhart to his damage control team in January. As Clinton White House press secretary, it was the team of Lockhart and Lannie Davis that perfected the technique of selective timing of bad news releases to minimize political damage. In the press they found many willing accomplices who would publish immediately and ask few questions, as long as they got the scoop. As Davis himself said in this article explaining the details of the technique, charmingly entitled "
Damage Control 101--How to get the bad news out quickly - and quietly," their favorite "go-to" guy for releases was AP's John Solomon, and they used him more than any other reporter.

When Davis was questioned yesterday about whether he had anything to do with the leaking of the Berger story, he dodged, bobbed, weaved, and evaded answering.  But going back to the original release, the one composed almost entirely of Berger's own lawyer-approved version, we can't help but note that the author was none other than John Solomon of the AP. And that's three.

None of which you will find in the august pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times, or hear from Dan Rather, all of whom continue to insist that a tale of a Democrat stealing national Security materials and pre-emptively timing the release of the story is a somehow a Republican scandal.