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Filling in the Blanks on Berger

John on December 21, 2006 at 9:36 pm

On Wednesday, the office of the Inspector General of the National Archives released a report on their investigation into the document pilfering by former national security adviser Sandy Berger. The report goes into detail about how Mr. Berger removed documents from the Archives (he claims they weren’t in his socks) and what he did with them when he got them home (he cut several up with scissors).

CNN has posted a redacted copy of the report online. Everyone connected with the incident has had their name withheld, which makes for difficult reading. One paragraph on page 9 of the report caught my attention. Here’s how it reads:

Mr. Berger called _______ told ___ what happened, and asked what he should do. _______ told Mr. Berger to get a lawyer. Mr. Berger and _______ did not discuss this issue any further as they were _________ and knew it was better not to talk about this.

Here’s how it appears (click the image for full size).

berger1.jpg

This paragraph describes who Mr. Berger contacted in October 2003 when he realized he’d been discovered. I decided to put my Wheel of Fortune skills to work and see if I could fill in the blanks. The last one is the most obvious. “They were both lawyers and knew it was better not to talk about this.” As you’ll see in a moment, this phrase fits perfectly in that long blank.

And, under the circumstances, it makes sense that Mr. Berger would call a lawyer for advice. Clearly it wasn’t his own lawyer since the advice he got was “Get a lawyer.” So who does a former national security adviser call for advice when facing a major scandal? One name comes immediately to mind.

Bruce Lindsey is Bill Clinton’s close confidant and personal lawyer. Time magazine dubbed him “Mr. Fix It” and noted that he had other nicknames as well including “the Enforcer” and “the Consigliere.” During the ’92 election Lindsey was the person charged with handling “bimbo eruptions” on Governor Clinton’s behalf. Lindsey also tried (unsuccessfully) to broker a deal with Dolly Kyle Browning which was designed to prevent the publication of a book detailing her affair with Clinton. The Time article also notes:

Lindsey was allegedly in contact with Linda Tripp, his former subordinate, after she saw Kathleen Willey emerge disheveled from an alleged Oval Office sexual encounter. Browning, meanwhile, says that in addition to working out their deal, Lindsey was her White House contact about her relationship with the President, and he was the person she called when she was subpoenaed by Jones.

During Clinton’s impeachment, Lindsey was charged with making an executive privilege argument on behalf of his boss, an argument even the NY Times found less than compelling. In short, if it involves Bill Clinton and damaging dirt, Lindsey is there in the thick of it.

These days, Lindsey is CEO of the William J Clinton Foundation. This appears to be Clinton’s one man speaker’s bureau. There is a request form on the site where you can request Clinton speak to your group. Lindsey last made national news when he wrote a rather intemperate letter to ABC Television demanding that they cancel their Path to 9/11 mini-series. Note how Sandy Berger’s name came up in that letter:

Frankly, the bias of the ABC drama is not surprising given the background and political leanings of its writer/producer, Mr. Nowrasteh, which have been well-documented on numerous conservative blogs and talk shows in his promotion of this film. Mr. Nowrasteh’s bias can be seen in an interview he gave to David Horowitz’s conservative magazine Frontpage, during which he said:

“The 9/11 report details the Clinton’s administration’s response – or lack of response – to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests. The worst example is the response to the October, 2000 attack of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen where 17 American sailors were killed. There simply was no response. Nothing.”

But as Sandy Berger told the 9/11 Commission: “[T]o go to war, a president needs to be able to say that his senior intelligence and law enforcement officers have concluded who is responsible.” And as the 9/11 Commission report repeatedly acknowledges, the US did not have clear evidence of bin Laden’s connection to the attack on the USS Cole before the end of the Clinton Administration (p. 192, 193, 195 & executive summary).

Clearly, Mr. Lindsey was concerned about the possible taint to Mr. Clinton’s legacy. The refutation of the key point of the film — that Clinton blew chances to get bin Laden — rested on the testimony of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

Getting back to Mr. Berger. The “docs in socks” incident took place in late 2003. Mr. Berger’s stated reason for reviewing the documents in question was to prepare for his testimony for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission. He testified in early April of 2004. After the document theft became public, Bruce Lindsey was called before a grand jury. The NY Post did a brief story the day of his testimony:

Former Clinton White House Mr. Fix-It Bruce Lindsey emerged tight-lipped yesterday after testifying before a federal grand jury probing whether top-secret documents were illegally removed from the National Archives.

The grand jury probe, reported exclusively in The Post Tuesday, is digging into why another former Bill Clinton aide, Sandy Berger, sneaked the national security documents out of the Archives — possibly in his socks.

Lindsey denied any inside knowledge about Berger’s sticky fingers.

“All I know is what he [Berger] said. He made a public statement,” said Lindsey, Clinton’s deputy White House counsel, after testifying under oath yesterday.

Berger admits walking off with 40 to 50 top-secret documents from the archives, but claims it was an “honest mistake” while vetting documents for the 9/11 commission.

Berger has admitted destroying some documents — he says by mistake.

Lindsey declined comment on what he told the grand jury, but denied reports that he met with Berger in New York for crisis control as the scandal erupted last summer.

So as of Jan. 2005, Lindsey is basically giving the Sgt. Schultz defense, i.e. “I know nuf-zing!” Problem is that wasn’t true. According to this Washington Post story from 2004, Lindsey not only knew, he was the first to know outside the Archives staff:

A government official with knowledge of the investigation said Archives employees took action promptly after noticing a missing document in September. This official said an Archives employee called former White House deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey, who is former president Bill Clinton’s liaison to the National Archives. The Archives employee said documents were missing and would have to be returned.

The article also notes:

Lindsey, now in private legal practice in Little Rock, did not return telephone and e-mail messages.

So the Archives staff contacted Lindsey when documents went missing because he was Clinton’s liaison to the Archives at the time. That’s true, but it’s probably not the whole story. The NY Post raised some questions at the time Berger’s plea deal was reached in 2005 (The only record I can find of the Post story is this one over at Free Republic):

After the plea deal was announced, the NY Post reported that the probe “seems to have shifted to whether Clinton appointees at the Archives tried to cover for Berger. Archives chief John Carlin, a Clinton appointee, was bounced soon after the incident. It’s a violation of law to take classified documents, so Archives staffers should have called the FBI when they saw Berger do it — instead, they called Clinton’s Mr. Fix-it, lawyer Bruce Lindsey.”

So Lindsey was involved thanks to Clinton appointee John Carlin, but later denied that he knew anything about it. Did he lie to the grand jury? Doubtful. Only a very dumb lawyer would do something like that and Lindsey is no dummy. Then why lie to the press?

Now let’s return to that paragraph from the Inspector General report and answer that question I posed earlier: Who does a former National Security Adviser call for advice when he’s facing a scandal? Answer: Mr. Fix-it. Here’s what I think was redacted (click for full size):

berger2.jpg

The line in blue is my typing of the line in 20 pt. Arial font. As you can see, the match is almost perfect. There is a slight difference which results from the poor quality of the original and the fact that I had to rotate it a bit to make the text more horizontal.

If this is accurate, what does it prove? Well, like a lot of people, I have long been suspicious of Sandy Berger’s excuses for why he was stealing classified documents from the National Archive. Now that we know the lengths he went to — hiding documents under a construction trailer and returning for them later — it seems even less likely this was anything other than a desperate attempt to protect Mr. Clinton’s legacy. And when it comes to Clinton’s legacy, no one is more involved than Bruce Lindsey.

Lindsey has literally made a career out of covering Clinton’s tracks. If Mr. Berger’s first call after getting caught was to Mr. Lindsey, it’s further evidence that this was a cover up of some kind. As for the suggestion of a Lindsey and Berger crisis control meeting, it may or may not have happened after Berger was caught in late 2003. We do know they were together in April 2004. Doing what you ask? Accompanying Mr. Clinton to his 9/11 Commission appearance:

Clinton brought along Sandy Berger, his affable National Security Adviser, and Bruce Lindsey, his longtime friend and White House consigliere.

What were they trying to hide? Unless Lindsey or Berger grow a conscience, we’ll never know.

[HT: HotAir for the IG report]

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