The Washington Post reports that House Republican inquiries have revealed that Sandy Berger’s removal of Clinton Administration secret memos from the National Archives was treated with surprising incuriosity by certain elements in the Justice Department.
A report last month by the Republican staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said for the first time that Berger’s visits were so badly mishandled that Archives officials had acknowledged not knowing if he removed anything else and destroyed it. The committee further argued that the 9/11 Commission should have been told more about Berger and about Brachfeld’s concerns, a suggestion that resonated with Philip Zelikow, the commission’s former executive director.
Zelikow said in an interview last week that “I think all of my colleagues would have wanted to have all the information at the time that we learned from the congressional report, because that would have triggered some additional questions, including questions we could have posed to Berger under oath.”
The commission’s former general counsel, Dan Marcus, now an American University law professor, separately expressed surprise at how little the Justice Department told the commission about Berger and said it was “a little unnerving” to learn from the congressional report exactly what Berger reviewed at the Archives and what he admitted to the FBI — including that he removed and cut up three copies of a classified memo.
“If he took papers out, these were unique records, and highly, highly classified. Had a document not been produced, who would have known?” Brachfeld said in an interview. “I thought [the 9/11 Commission] should know, in current time — in judging Sandy Berger as a witness . . . that there was a risk they did not get the full production of records.”
In an April 1, 2005, press conference and private statements to the commission, the Justice Department stated instead that Berger had access only to copied documents, not originals. They also said the sole documents Berger admitted taking — five copies of a 2001 terrorism study — were later provided to the commission.
Those assertions conflicted with a September 2004 statement to Brachfeld by Nancy Kegan Smith, who directs the Archives’ presidential documents staff and let Berger view the documents in her office in violation of secrecy rules. Smith said “she would never know what if any original documents were missing,” Brachfeld reported in an internal memo.
In a letter to House lawmakers last week, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Hertling did not address the issue of why the department told the commission so little. But Hertling wrote that in numerous interviews, “neither Mr. Berger nor any other witness provided the Department with evidence that Mr. Berger had taken any documents beyond the five.”
There must have been something very damaging in there. Possibly some very conspicuous failure to deal with Osama bin Laden during the late 1990s, well before 9/11, which was sufficiently embarassing to William Jefferson Clinton that Sandy Berger was willing to take some serious risks to remove from the record.
The Clintons apparently have dodged another bullet. You almost have to admire their adroitness at doing exactly as they please, and then baffling their opponents with brilliant and brazen maneuvers when in danger of being called to account. Remember the missing Rose Law Firm records which turned up in the White House finally, very shortly after the Statute of Limitations had expired?