Ronald Cass’s “What did he take and why did he take it?” was the best column to date on the Sandy Berger scandal. We commented on it in “Something here touches a nerve.” Cass follows up the earlier column with an equally excellent column today occasioned by Berger’s surrender of his law license. Cass writes:
We don’t know with any certainty what is missing, which papers exactly are gone, or what notes – and whose notes – may have been on them. Berger’s lawyer asserted that the 9/11 Commission had copies of all the material Berger stole and destroyed. But if that is so, why would Berger risk so much to destroy it and be so keen today on avoiding any real inquiry into what he did?
Berger had access to Archives documents that could be critical to understanding what information the Clinton Administration had, what options it considered, and what decisions it took on these sensitive subjects. In addition to primary documents, Berger had access to copies, and the only plausible reason for taking five copies of a single memo is that some had original notes on them from key officials, maybe from Berger or President Clinton.
For Berger to risk jail and disgrace, to then give up the right to practice his profession merely in order to avoid having to answer questions, he must be hiding something important. And if it is that important to him, it is also important to us.
The most likely explanation is that the material Berger destroyed points to a terrible mistake by Berger himself, by President Clinton, or by both. In dealing with al-Qaeda, did they overlook a critical piece of information or miss a chance to stop 9/11? Did the Administration’s failure to take a more aggressive posture encourage al-Qaeda’s later attacks?
Sadly, this story doesn’t interest the Justice Department, which disposed of the criminal charges leniently based in part on false information from Berger. When faced with the fact that Berger had access to original documents on two occasions before Archives’ employees became suspicious enough to start marking documents, the Justice Department declared with confidence that no documents had been taken – they asked Berger if he had taken anything during those visits, he said no, and they let the matter rest.
The story doesn’t interest the Democrats in Congress, who prefer spending time investigating why eight political-level appointees were fired – a misstep by the Bush Justice Department that provides more promising political fodder than one that might point back to the Clintons.
The Sandy Berger story doesn’t interest the mainstream news media, probably for the same reason. The media elites, so keen in other settings on the people’s right to know, don’t want to know about this. Maybe if this story involved a Karl instead of a Sandy…
Do read the whole thing.
JOHN adds: As we’ve said before, the contrast between the Sandy Berger and Scooter Libby cases could hardly be more striking.
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