Michael Barone wrote a column in US News, contrasting the seriousness of the offenses committed by Sandy Berger with the discrepancy between Lewis Libby’s memory and those of Tim Russert and Matt Cooper and noting the irony of Libby facing far more serious penalties than Berger received.
Sandy Berger responded with this defensive email.
“Michael: I screwed up. There was nothing sinister about it. I was under serious pressure to digest the entire Clinton record on terrorism for eight years so that we could testify fully to the 9-11 commission. I spent several arduous days at the Archives looking through the files. This document was interesting to me because I had commissioned it in 2000â€“a look at what we learned from the millennium terror threats that were avoided. Tired, stressed, I made a very stupid decisionâ€“to take the documents home with me so that I could review them in more detail and so that I could compare the apparent differences among versions. Since this document had been widely circulated to all the relevant agencies (State, Defense, CIA, Justice, etc.), I felt certain the commission would get it from one or more of these agencies.
There were no handwritten markings on the documents (which were copies) or anything else unusual. I took no other documentsâ€“originals or copiesâ€“besides the ones specified in my plea agreement.
The DOJ has stated unequivocally that there is no evidence that I took other documents and that the commission received everything.
That’s the long and short of it. I made a very stupid mistake. I deeply regret it. Top-level career Justice Department prosecutors investigated it aggressively for two years. We reached a plea agreement that they believed was fair. That was two years ago. Now I wish this thing would go away.
John Hinderaker expresses some very appropriate skepticism of Berger’s veracity.
I don’t buy it. Berger didn’t make an impulsive decision–“tired, stressed”–to smuggle documents out of the National Archives. He stole documents on multiple occasions. On one occasion, he sneaked them out of the archives, went to a nearby construction site and hid the documents under a construction trailer, so he could come back later and pick them up. I simply don’t believe that Berger engaged in this kind of cloak and dagger behavior just because he found the documents “interesting” and wanted to study them at home.
Most of all, I don’t see how Berger’s explanation can be reconciled with his own admission that he didn’t just take the documents home; he cut some of them to pieces with a pair of scissors. Why did he destroy the documents if he wasn’t trying to prevent them from coming to light?
Nor am I impressed by Berger’s claim that the Department of Justice “has stated unequivocally that there is no evidence that I took other documents and that the commission received everything.” There is no evidence as to what documents Berger took because the Archives staff let him walk off with them and didn’t try to monitor what he was doing until it was too late. That being the case, the only evidence as to what documents were taken is Berger’s own confession.