In April 2005, a Republican-led Department of Justice did something quite unusual. After catching a Democratic operative stealing and destroying highly relevant classified documents, the DoJ punished him as though he had stolen the Snickers bars from the office vending machine.
On October 28, 2005, another curious event took place in those same halls of justice: an allegedly Republican special prosecutor indicted a White House advisor of his own party for a series of process crimes unrelated to the original intent of his investigation.
As will become clear, this double injustice not only foreshadowed future injustices, but it also served as a practice run of sorts for the players involved. Several of these players would come center stage once again in the long-running political drama that debuted in 2016.
The Democratic operative on that barely warm seat in 2005 was former Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, since deceased. The attorney general at the time, the feckless Alberto Gonzales, had been on the job less than two months when the Berger deal went down. Secret Empires: How th... Best Price: $4.14 Buy New $11.12 (as of 06:25 EDT - Details)
Gonzales’s deputy attorney general, James Comey, however, had been on the job for more than a year. It was under Comey’s supervision that the DoJ reviewed the case against Berger. It was a doozy.
In the nerviest of his criminal acts, Berger stole highly classified documents and stashed them under a trailer at a construction site during a break. He retrieved the documents at the end of the day and admittedly used scissors to cut them into little pieces before throwing them away. He then lied to investigators about what he had done.
As punishment, Comey and crew recommended a $10,000 fine for Berger and a three-year loss of top-level security clearance. That, incredibly, was it. Oh, yes, as part of the package, the FBI and/or DoJ was to give Berger a lie detector test. Neither agency bothered.
Celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart had to be fuming. Two years earlier, Comey, then U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, prosecuted Stewart for lying to investigators on a minor stock transaction and saw to it that Stewart served five months in prison. Months later, it would be Bush/Cheney advisor Scooter Libby’s turn.
The FBI Director in 2005 was Robert Mueller. His role in the Berger case might have paralleled Comey’s role in the Hillary Clinton email affair, but it did not. Comey served as the public face in both the Berger and the Clinton cases, the former as Deputy AG, the latter as head of the FBI. Comey likes the limelight.
During his eight years in the Clinton White House, Berger had done worse than steal documents. Like Pulp Fiction’s Winston Wolf, his job was to “solve problems.” In April 2002, the former president had a problem to solve. Someone had to review intelligence documents in advance of the various hearings on 9/11. As made clear in a 2007 report by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform — a primer on deep state treachery — Berger did not welcome the assignment. Clinton Cash: The Unto... Best Price: $2.00 Buy New $5.05 (as of 12:50 EDT - Details)
According to the archivists, Berger “indicated some disgust with the burden and responsibility of conducting the document review.” I have a suspicion of what those documents were. Suffice it for now to say they had to contain information damaging to both Clinton and Berger sufficient for Berger to risk his livelihood, his reputation, and his very freedom.
The House report states that Berger made four trips to the National Archives. The first of his visits was in May 2002, the last in October 2003. He clearly left his mark. “The full extent of Berger’s document removal,” said the House report, “is not known and never can be known.”
The archivists expressed shock that neither the FBI nor the DoJ even questioned Berger about his first two visits when several original documents were there for the taking.
Were it not for Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general of the National Archives, the Berger case might never have surfaced. In January 2004, a month after Comey became deputy AG, Brachfeld met with DoJ attorney Howard Sklamberg. Concerned that Berger had obstructed the 9/11 Commission’s work, Brachfeld wanted assurance that the commission knew of Berger’s crimes.