Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Playing catch-up: Today's New York Times finally catches up with the rest of the major media by putting a Sandy Berger story on page A1. Being a day late, the Times report focuses on the fact that Berger quit his unpaid advisory position to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign. If you think the Times doesn't have an impact on the editorial decisions outside its own newsroom, you'd be wrong. CNN.com, after having nothing on its front page regarding the investigation of Berger by the FBI much of yesterday, put it as the lede story shortly after the Times put the story on its front page.
The most interesting article today on the Berger issue comes from National Review's Byron York.
First, Berger has reportedly conceded that he knowingly hid his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants in order to sneak them out of the Archives. Any notes made from classified material have to be cleared before they can be removed from the Archives — a common method of safeguarding classified information — and Berger's admission that he hid the notes in his clothing is a clear sign of intent to conceal his actions.
Second, although Berger said he reviewed thousands of pages, he apparently homed in on a single document: the so-called "after-action report" on the Clinton administration's handling of the millennium plot of 1999/2000. Berger is said to have taken multiple copies of the same paper. He is also said to have taken those copies on at least two different days. There have been no reports that he took any other documents, which suggests that his choice of papers was quite specific, and not the result of simple carelessness.
Third, it appears that Berger's "inadvertent" actions clearly aroused the suspicion of the professional staff at the Archives. Staff members there are said to have seen Berger concealing the papers; they became so concerned that they set up what was in effect a small sting operation to catch him. And sure enough, Berger took some more. Those witnesses went to their superiors, who ultimately went to the Justice Department. (There was no surveillance camera in the room in which Berger worked with the documents, meaning there is no videotape record of the incidents.)
I don't know what Berger was thinking, but his explanations are ringing a little hollow.