Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, a former White House national security adviser, plans to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and will acknowledge intentionally removing and destroying copies of a classified document about the Clinton administration's record on terrorism.
Berger's plea agreement, which was described yesterday by his advisers and was confirmed by Justice Department officials, will have one of former president Bill Clinton's most influential advisers and one of the Democratic Party's leading foreign policy advisers in a federal court this afternoon.
The deal's terms make clear that Berger spoke falsely last summer in public claims that in 2003 he twice inadvertently walked off with copies of a classified document during visits to the National Archives, then later lost them.
He described the episode last summer as "an honest mistake." Yesterday, a Berger associate who declined to be identified by name but was speaking with Berger's permission said: "He recognizes what he did was wrong. . . . It was not inadvertent."
Under terms negotiated by Berger's attorneys and the Justice Department, he has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and accept a three-year suspension of his national security clearance. These terms must be accepted by a judge before they are final, but Berger's associates said yesterday he believes that closure is near on what has been an embarrassing episode during which he repeatedly misled people about what happened during two visits to the National Archives in September and October 2003.
Lanny Breuer, Berger's attorney, said in a statement: "Mr. Berger has cooperated fully with the Department of Justice and is pleased that a resolution appears very near. He accepts complete responsibility for his actions, and regrets the mistakes he made during his review of documents at the National Archives."
The terms of Berger's agreement required him to acknowledge to the Justice Department the circumstances of the episode. Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business.
The document, written by former National Security Council terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, was an "after-action review" prepared in early 2000 detailing the administration's actions to thwart terrorist attacks during the millennium celebration. It contained considerable discussion about the administration's awareness of the rising threat of attacks on U.S. soil.
Archives officials have said previously that Berger had copies only, and that no original documents were lost. It remains unclear whether Berger knew that, or why he destroyed three versions of a document but left two other versions intact. Officials have said the five versions were largely similar, but contained slight variations as the after-action report moved around different agencies of the executive branch.
National Archives officials almost immediately suspected that Berger had removed materials after his Oct. 2, 2003, visit. They called Bruce R. Lindsey, a former White House lawyer and Clinton's liaison to the archives to complain. Lindsey, sources said, called Berger, who soon acknowledged to archives officials that he had removed documents -- by accident, he told them -- and returned notes that he made, as well as the two documents he had not destroyed.
A criminal investigation, which eventually brought witnesses before a grand jury, was soon underway. The probe came to light last July, prompting Berger's resignation as a senior foreign policy adviser to 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.
Berger's archives visit occurred as he was reviewing materials as a designated representative of the Clinton administration to the national commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The question of what Clinton knew and did about the emerging al Qaeda threat before leaving office in January 2001 was acutely sensitive, as suggested by Berger's determination to spend hours poring over the Clarke report before his testimony.
The Berger associate authorized to speak with reporters described the chronology the former national security chief gave to the Justice Department in his negotiations with the Justice Department. On Sept. 2, 2003, the associate said, Berger put a copy of the Clarke report in his suit jacket. He did not put it in his socks or underwear, as was alleged by some Republicans last summer. On Oct. 2, 2003, he again spent hours at the archives and took four more versions of the document. Back in his office, he studied them in detail, realized they were largely identical, and took the scissors to three of the copies, the associate said.
Berger friends regarded the agreement as fair, given the circumstances, and Breuer's statement praised the "professionalism" of the lawyers he worked with at the Justice Department.