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Berger

Well, taking classified documents out of the archives is illegal whether it was done intentionall or not, so I guess Sandy Berger's not going to come out of this looking to good. But none of the news coverage I've seen of this is clear on what I take to be a very important issue here -- were the documents Berger lost (generous interpretation) or destroyed (ungenerous interpretation) unique copies of something, or just one set of papers among many. If it's the latter, then it seems we can rule out any of the nefarious intent that Andrew Sullivan insinuates here. You don't cover something up by eliminating one copy of the documents. Now my guess is that this isn't what happened, because if it had we would have heard about it earlier from the 9/11 Commission as they complained about their inability to assemble a complete record. But that's just a guess. If the documents were unique, Berger looks a good deal worse.

Like others, I'm pretty puzzled by this whole thing, which seems motiveless and self-destructive. Maybe Dick Holbrooke set him up. Who knows?

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Keef, I see the 9-11 Commission saying that whatever Berger did it in no way impacted their investigation so either this was not a cover-up, or else it was an uncommonly stupid cover-up that involved leaving the original documents in the archives. To be clear, though, mucking around like this with classified documents is illegal even if there's no malicious intent. Just as John Deutsch. Meanwhile, no one seems to have appreciated my Holbrooke set-up joke, even though he seems to be the only one who's benefitting from all this.

UPDATE II: In all seriousness, Holbrooke really is the big beneficiary here and that's a good thing. He'd be the better Secretary of State. Now the only thing standing between him and the job is Joe Biden and the question is what can Holbrooke do to get the nation more focused on the problem of stamping out plagiarism. . . .

July 20, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

The 'fact' that Berger was doing a black bag job for the Kerry campaign is of course what's driving the story.

There's a cui-to-bono ratio problem with that view, though.

What of substance would Berger -- who presently has no standing other than a witness before the commission -- have gotten his hands on that a sitting senator on the Foreign Relations committee,or his staff, would not have?

And if an independent commission has whatever it is, and it's that's bloody important, and committees in Congress with oversight responsibilities in the area do not have it, who's keeping Congress in the dark?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jul 20, 2004 5:01:26 PM

Probably just a screwup. Too bad.

Posted by: JP | Jul 20, 2004 5:02:24 PM

Matthew wrote:

"You don't cover something up by eliminating one copy of the documents. Now my guess is that this isn't what happened, because if it had we would have heard about it earlier from the 9/11 Commission as they complained about their inability to assemble a complete record."

Here's what the commission said today:


"Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the Sept. 11 commission, said Tuesday the Berger investigation will not impact the panel’s work in any way. The 10-member bipartisan panel releases its final report on Thursday.

“This is a matter between the government and an individual,” he said. “They were not our documents, and we believe we have access to all the materials we need to see to do our report.”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5463586/

It sure seems like a tempest in a teapot to me.

Keef

Posted by: keef | Jul 20, 2004 5:03:14 PM

The only thing that makes any sense at all to me is that possibly Mr. Berger was afraid some documents regarding the foiled millenium attacks would be dissapeared/docotored/lied-about.

Posted by: Brautigan | Jul 20, 2004 5:06:46 PM

The reports indicate that he removed copies of the documents, in which case the originals still exist. That points to either (a) a very dumb (verging on criminal) screwup, or (b) support for Brautigan's claim that he was afraid that the originals would be destroyed or doctored. (which would remind us how little the white house is trusted, these days)

Posted by: Constantine | Jul 20, 2004 5:15:01 PM

Way too early to comment on this. We do not even have a clear first draft of what happened.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 20, 2004 5:18:44 PM

The story seems strange. The only motivation that comes to mind is a general defense of his record in the run up to 9-11. He was probably assuming the Bush administration would try to deflect a lot of blame onto the Clinton administation, and wanted notes on the details so that he would not say something that would allow Bush administration to scour the record for inconsistencies.

Posted by: theCoach | Jul 20, 2004 5:19:41 PM

Berger steps down:

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20040720/D83UOCR00.html

Posted by: Ugh | Jul 20, 2004 5:40:42 PM

I think Democrats pushing for an aggressive, open, and fair investigation would provide a very nice contrast to, for example, the many months it has taken --and is still taking-- to figure out who outed the identy of CIA agent Valerie Plame; or the near silence regarding figuring out who told Chalabi, who subsequently told the Iranians, that our intelligence agencies had access to Iranian internal communications.

The Republicans want to start a stink about handling of classified material? As they say, Bring It On.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 20, 2004 5:42:11 PM

Berger's lawyer was just on CNN, and was pretty credible, I thought. He says that Berger took notes, which was against Archive Rules, but not criminal. He also basically said that Berger is a slob, that he was reviewing thousands of documents, and some got mixed up with his own documents in his leather portfolio. And I think it's fairly well established now that Berger was looking at copies. And the lawyer categorically denied 'reports' that Berger stuffed docs into his pants, coat and socks.

I guess (?) we'll find out for sure, but I don't buy the stock stupidity it was Susan Paige's turn to mouth today, namely that notwithstanding the fact that no actual harm was done, it's still Berger's Bad to have opened himself up to this. Of course it is, but what does that actually mean? Very little. It's more moronic circular reasoning of the Clinton Impeachment-type. This is the sleaziest the Executive branch has been since Nixon, and probably worse than that. Interesting that we never heard anything about this vital breach for the last 10 months....

Posted by: jonnybutter | Jul 20, 2004 5:42:30 PM

"Probably just a screwup. Too bad."

You know, this happens to me all the time too. I go in some place to look at highly confidential papers with the explicit instructions that I only read them and not copy them, take notes on them or, perhaps not as explict as it should be, not steal them. I then take them home with me. You know, everybody screws up, right? Why can't we just move on.

Posted by: Michael Murphy | Jul 20, 2004 5:43:42 PM

> You know, this happens to me all the time
> too. I go in some place to look at highly
> confidential papers with the explicit
> instructions that I only read them and not
> copy them, take notes on them or, perhaps
> not as explict as it should be, not steal
> them.

Kinda like the CIA dude who was involved in the Wen Ho Lee prosecution and all the time his CIA-issue laptop with the TOP SECRET stamep on it was sitting on his desk at home being used by his teenagers.

Yup, never happens.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jul 20, 2004 5:52:26 PM

I go in some place to look at highly confidential papers with the explicit instructions that I only read them and not copy them, take notes on them or, perhaps not as explict as it should be, not steal them. I then take them home with me. You know, everybody screws up, right? Why can't we just move on.

MM, Berger probably wrote many of the documents he was looking at. It's not as if he was just 'some guy'. When partisian republicans might have done something illegal (like outing a CIA agent), we are treated to all kinds of extenuation, but when a relatively trivial thing is done by an enemy of those partisians, it's: 'Oh my god! But that's illegal'.

I'm not a fan of Berger, and have always thought of him as being a little bit of an intellectual slob, and his being careless in this way doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but - what's the bottom line on this? This story looks like, sounds like and smells like a load of cow-pucky. I guess we'll see...

Posted by: jonnybutter | Jul 20, 2004 6:05:26 PM

As noted above, even though the investigation is pending, Berger is removing himself from the Kerry Campaign. This is appropriate and good.

If there are in fact individuals who told Robert Novak Plame was a CIA agent, or individuals who told Chalabi we could read Iranian intelligence, it would be nice if they did as Berger did, too. But maybe that's too much to ask.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 20, 2004 6:05:43 PM

I got the Holbrooke joke, but too bad you made it one too many times, when I think one of those times you meant Berger.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 20, 2004 6:35:50 PM

I don't have a clue what happened here, but based on experience, the handling of classified documents is a real pain in the ass, especially when numbers and dates are involved. You are expected to remember numbers and dates that you have read in a secure environment. Great, it's weeks later, how's your memory. What day did you make that call? What was the impact velocity? How many seconds allowed? Unless you can perform entirely within the secure room, the difficulties multiply rapidly....glad I don't have to bother with that BS (and 99.99% of it IS BS)anymore.

Posted by: wolf | Jul 20, 2004 6:39:15 PM

Just to be clear: the Holbrooke joke, as I understood it was that he did this to tarnish Berger's image so he could be Secretary of State in a Kerry administration.

Posted by: Gregory | Jul 20, 2004 6:42:20 PM

I'm thinking about what's going on in Kerry's mind right now.

Either (a) he didn't know about this and he's seriously pissed off at Berger for not bothering to mention it when he became an advisor to the campaign. And what does it say about Berger that he could be an advisor to the campaign with such an investigation going on, and not telling anyone? Berger must know whether he broke the law or not (sounds like he did, "inadvertant taking and losing of mere copies" or "intentional removal and destruction of originals," both are criminal from what I've read).

(b) Kerry knew about this and is seriously pissed off about it coming to light. What does that say about Kerry (and Berger)?

Either way, he's got to be a bit miffed.

Posted by: Ugh | Jul 20, 2004 6:43:50 PM

I posted a lot about this on my blog today. Basically, it boils down to a couple of points:

1) The exact details of Berger's activity are being misreported in right-wing corners for maximum hysteria.
2) The "accidental action" and the "9/11 committee prep" explanation are the most logical. He has no motive to try and destroy the documents, as he knows he's looking at copies. Stealing the documents for leaking purposes is also a suicidal move, as the trail leads clearly to him. I favor the accidental explanation, as we already know he took notes with him intentionally, making the document lift unnecessarily risky.
3) This was known a very long time ago, and no one thought it was a big deal before it was leaked this morning by Republican operatives. The FBI hadn't even interviewed Berger yet.

Much ago about nothing. In any even, it's good that he's being distanced from Kerry. This was very, very stupid on Berger's part, and he'll probably never work in Washington again because of it.

Posted by: G C | Jul 20, 2004 6:44:58 PM

Hey ... I appreciated your Holbrooke Joke. Though, I suspect he had the inside track to SecState anyway.

Posted by: niq | Jul 20, 2004 6:46:56 PM

i think ugh is correct that berger should have told kerry about this months ago; the fact that he didn't suggests he really didn't think it was a big deal.

It's also fun to speculate on what prompted the leak last night, with the phrase "republican operative" hard to ignore.

But for pure, unadulterated foolishness, it's hard to beat bill frist, enhancing his reputation as a complete spineless jackass, opining darkly how "interesting" it is that the documents are about port and airport security and kerry has criticized the bush administration on port and airport security.

Because, of course, otherwise it would never have crossed anyone's mind to note the deficiencies of the bush administration on improving homeland security, and certainly berger would have suffered total amnesia about what he read if he hadn't walked out with any copies of documents.

Frist, who first demonstrated his hack nature by criticizing Richard Clarke for perjury without knowing what Clarke had actually said continues to embellish his credentials....

Posted by: howard | Jul 20, 2004 6:57:35 PM

it's not just Holbrooke.
there's also the Governor of New Mexico
and Wesley Clarke
and Strobe Talbott
and not a few others

Posted by: Otto | Jul 20, 2004 7:04:18 PM

Y'all still think the Shadow Cabinet thing is a good idea? I'll go along with it if JFK would like to announce Sandy for some juicy role. Pity for W he didn't do so last week.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 20, 2004 7:04:20 PM

The exact details of Berger's activity are being misreported in right-wing corners for maximum hysteria.

Well, I have read on more than one site that Berger had documents stuffed, among other places, in his socks. If that were true he'd have a little, um, splainin' to do.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 20, 2004 7:07:55 PM

Now let me tell you about some of MY jokes that no one laughed at..... OK, sure, sometime later, fine.

My guess is that during normal times control of that kind of document gets sloppy, especially for high-status people.

But then during a time of conflict, the rules are tightened up and enforced strictly for awhile. (I think this may explain the Wen Ho Lee case too).

And in this case, Berger also forgot that he was no longer the high-status insider he had been for years.

Lots of people had motives to blow this thing up.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 20, 2004 7:12:07 PM

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