Berger Quits as an Adviser to Kerry
Ex-Clinton Aide Facing Inquiry Over Papers
By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2004; Page A01
Clinton administration national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, under criminal investigation for removing copies of highly classified documents from the National Archives, severed his ties to John F. Kerry's campaign yesterday.
Berger, who has been the subject of an investigation since October, stepped down as Kerry's informal adviser on foreign policy and national security as the campaign moved quickly to stem the unfolding story's political damage.
A government official with knowledge of the probe said Berger removed from archives files all five or six drafts of a critique of the government's response to the millennium terrorism threat, which he said was classified "codeword," the government's highest level of document security.
A Kerry adviser said the expanding controversy convinced the campaign that Berger's departure was essential because of the serious distraction it posed for Kerry in the week before the Democratic Party nominates him for president.
Even as Berger acknowledged his actions, it remained unclear the degree to which they stemmed from carelessness or an intentional effort to hide and remove the documents, along with notes of the materials he was reviewing.
Berger's attorneys have acknowledged that he removed numerous classified memos, and apparently discarded some, as he reviewed materials on behalf of the Clinton administration for the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They said the removal of documents was inadvertent but that Berger was aware he was violating the law when he removed his handwritten notes without submitting them for review by National Archives staff.
Lanny Breuer, one of Berger's attorneys, said he was uncertain of the classification level of the various documents because he had not seen them but added that he believes that different versions of the critique bore different classification stamps. The documents that were removed were copies; the National Archives retained the originals.
Berger reviewed the millennium after-action memos during two visits to the archives last fall, his attorneys have said.
"I made an honest mistake which I deeply regret," Berger told reporters outside his office last night. "I dealt with this issue in October 2003 fully and completely. Everything that I have done all along in this process has been for the purpose of aiding and supporting the work of the 9/11 commission, and any suggestion to the contrary is simply absolutely wrong."
Republicans seized on the controversy. Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) speculated that Berger had provided the material to the Kerry campaign but offered no proof.
"Mr. Berger has a lot of explaining to do. He was given access to these documents to assist the 9/11 commission, not hide information from them," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "The American people and the 9/11 families don't want coverups when it comes to the war on terror. They want the truth. And so does the U.S. House of Representatives."
Panel spokesman Alvin Felzenberg said yesterday that the panel is confident, based on records and other evidence, that it has been given copies of all the documents under investigation in Berger's case.
But Democrats said they were suspicious that the timing of the investigation's disclosure was intended to distract from the impact of the commission report, scheduled for release tomorrow.
Absent an exoneration from the FBI, the investigation appears to diminish, and possibly demolish, Berger's chances for a senior post in a Democratic administration should Kerry defeat President Bush, at least at the start of a new administration, according to some Democrats who have handled controversies relating to Cabinet nominations.
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