Archives Staff Was Suspicious of Berger
The government source said the Archives employees were deferential toward Berger, given his prominence, but were worried when he returned to view more documents on Oct. 2. They devised a coding system and marked the documents they knew Berger was interested in canvassing, and watched him carefully. They knew he was interested in all the versions of the millennium review, some of which bore handwritten notes from Clinton-era officials who had reviewed them. At one point an Archives employee even handed Berger a coded draft and asked whether he was sure he had seen it.
At the end of the day, Archives employees determined that that draft and all four or five other versions of the millennium memo had disappeared from the files, this source said.
This source and another government official said that archivists gave Berger use of a special room for reviewing the documents. He was examining the documents to recommend to the Bush administration which papers should be released to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said that employees closely monitor anyone cleared to review classified presidential materials.
The contradictions over essential facts, such as when Berger was first alerted to missing documents, have characterized the controversy this week.
Sources have told The Washington Post, and other news organizations, that Berger was witnessed stuffing papers into his clothing. Through attorneys and spokesmen, Berger has denied doing that.
Berger has known for months that he was in potential jeopardy. Breuer was hired in October, and in January former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart was enlisted to remain on standby if a public controversy blossomed. But Berger allies said he did not inform Kerry because he had resolved to work privately with Justice Department officials, and received assurances that these officials would treat the matter confidentially.
The controversy is likely to continue, even after Berger relinquished his role as informal Kerry adviser on Tuesday. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said yesterday that he plans an investigation.
"These allegations are deeply troubling, and it's our constitutional responsibility to find out what happened and why," Davis said in a statement. "It boggles the mind to imagine how a former national security advisor walked off with this kind of material in his pants, or wherever on his body he carried it. At best, we're looking at tremendously irresponsible handling of highly classified information -- some of which, I understand, has not yet been located."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that "a few individuals" in the White House counsel's office knew about the investigation before news reports.
There was bitterness among Berger allies this week in the timing of the disclosure and the wealth of detail -- inaccurate detail, they say -- about the allegations.
"This is a terrible experience for him, and he's embarrassed by his mistakes," Lockhart said, "but I think he also feels a sense of injustice that after building a reputation as a tireless defender of his country that many Republicans would try to assassinate his character to pursue their own ends."
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