Political Crimes: Sandy Berger Vs. Scooter Libby (Part I)
by Gary D. Halbert
May 8, 2007
If you have read this weekly E-Letter for long, you know that I have more than a passing interest in politics. As a conservative, I follow politics closely, as apparently most of my regular readers do as well, based on our readership rates week in and week out. For reasons we do not understand, my political commentaries tend to get more readers than my investment letters. Go figure.
Anyway, this week I have decided to chronicle the political crimes committed in recent years by former President Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and current Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. Both men were convicted of wrongdoing, but were their respective punishments commensurate with their crimes?
Media coverage of Sandy Berger stealing classified documents from the National Archives, and his subsequent plea bargain and punishment, have long been forgotten by most Americans because the liberal media chose largely to ignore this national travesty. To dig into it deeply would risk implications for Bill Clinton, the media's darling.
Scooter Libby's troubles, on the other hand, were front-page news often because he worked for the dreaded George W. Bush administration. Unlike Sandy Berger who got only a fine, community service and a loss of his security clearance for a mere three years for his crimes, Scooter Libby will very likely be going to prison for several years as a result of his crime, unless his fate is overturned on appeal later this year or next.
In this issue of Forecasts & Trends E-Letter, we will look at the latest revelations in the Sandy Berger/Scooter Libby scandals, what crimes they committed, how they were exposed (as best we know) and what their criminal penalties were, or are likely to be in the case of Libby. You can reach your own opinion, as always, but I think most readers will agree with me that Sandy Berger got off with a slap on the wrist for much more serious crimes involving national security, while Libby is likely facing several years in prison for a questionable crime that threatened no one, much less our national security... Let's get started.
Sandy Berger's Theft At The National Archives
First, who is Sandy Berger? Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger is a Harvard Law School graduate who has been an active liberal Democrat during his adult career. He was a distinguished public servant who worked as National Security Advisor for Bill Clinton in 1997-2001 and in various Clinton administration positions prior to that (he and Clinton were very close). He worked in the Carter administration before that, and in various State Department positions in between. At the end of Clinton's second term, Berger left government life to become chairman of an international advisory firm that reportedly runs a large investment fund.
Fast-forward to the crime, or should I say crimes, as there were several that Mr. Berger has admitted to. But where to begin? Perhaps we should start with the so-called "9/11 Commission" which was created by President Bush in late 2002 to investigate the terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Well before the 9/11 Commission actually came into being, former president Bill Clinton authorized Sandy Berger to be his representative to the Commission in a letter dated April 12, 2002 according to the National Archives and Records Administration. This letter from Clinton granted Berger access to the National Archives for purposes of reviewing classified documents and representing the former president and himself before the Commission.
During 2003, Berger made several visits to the National Archives. As we now know, Berger stole several top-secret, classified documents from the Archives that had to do with Clinton administration preparations for the terrorist threats associated with the run-up to New Year's Eve on December 31, 1999 just before the "New Millennium." We also now know that Berger destroyed some of these documents. He pled guilty to doing so in federal court.
The initial questions are obvious: 1) Why would a career government veteran and former National Security Advisor risk everything, including prison, to steal numerous classified documents from the National Archives; 2) What did he need to cover up; and 3) Perhaps most importantly, who put him up to it? Can you think of anyone other than Bill Clinton? Who else could ask a career politician to risk going to jail? But I'm getting ahead of myself.
How Berger Finally Got Caught
After Berger's initial visits to the Archives, officials there became suspicious of his motives. Berger would take documents from files and request to be given a private room, supposedly so that he could make secure phone calls. He also reportedly went to the men's room very frequently, and Archives officials suspected he might have taken classified documents with him. Their concerns became so serious that on his last two visits, Archives officials placed secret numbers on documents before giving them to Berger. This was the clincher as he stole some of the secretly numbered documents.
On July 19, 2004, it was revealed that the US Justice Department was investigating Berger for unlawfully mishandling classified documents in October 2003, by removing them from a National Archives'reading room prior to testifying before the 9/11 Commission. The documents we know Berger stole were five classified copies covering a report commissioned by Richard Clarke, a senior National Security Council anti-terrorism officer in the Clinton administration. Clark's report that Berger stole covered internal assessments of the Clinton administration's handling of the 2000 Millennium terrorist attack threats.
When initially questioned by authorities, Berger reported that the removal of the top-secret documents in his attache-case and classified handwritten notes in his jacket and pants pockets was accidental. Later, in a guilty plea, Berger admitted not only to deliberately removing the five documents, but also to destroying three of them (cut up with scissors and trashed). Two of the copies were eventually recovered by DOJ investigators and returned to the archives.
Berger eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material on April 1, 2005. Under a plea agreement, US attorneys recommended a fine of $10,000 and a loss of his security clearance for three years. However, on September 8, 2005, US Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson increased the fine to $50,000 at Berger's sentencing. Robinson stated, "The court finds the fine [recommended by government prosecutors] is inadequate because it doesn't reflect the seriousness of the offense." Berger was also ordered to serve two years of probation and to perform 100 hours of community service. No jail time.
Critics suggest Berger destroyed primary evidence revealing anti-terrorism policies and actions, and that his motive was to permanently erase Clinton administration pre-9/11 mistakes from the public record. But in the end, two versions of the report were handed over by Berger and are now back on file in the Archives. Case closed? Yes, the case is officially closed, but that is not the end of the story.
Most media reports of the Berger theft concluded that because two of the five stolen documents were recovered, and they were supposedly subsequent drafts of the documents Berger destroyed, no classified information was lost, or at least very little. However, on Berger's first two visits to the Archives, prior to any suspicion, he was allowed to review highly confidential material that was not fully documented, photocopied or catalogued at the individual item level. Only Mr. Berger knows what transpired on his first two visits, when he reviewed collections of confidential memos, e-mails, and handwritten notes, including materials taken from counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke's office.
Again, what could possibly have been in those classified documents that would have persuaded a life-long public servant, and lawyer, to risk everything - including a possible prison term - to steal them from the National Archives? And who put him up to it? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count!
Oh, and one last thing. Sandy Berger lost his national security clearance for three years. Guess what? The three years is up in 2008. That means he will have all his clearances back next year, just in time should Hillary Clinton be our next president. Don't be at all surprised, if that is the case, to see Sandy Berger in another high-level national security position in a Hillary Clinton administration. He took the fall, so payback time may well be in order!
Political Crimes: Sandy Berger Vs. Scooter Libby (Part II)
Now For Scooter Libby's Troubles
So, who is Lewis "Scooter" Libby? Libby is a Washington lawyer who held several high-level positions in the Bush administration, including chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. He was also a national security advisor to both the vice president and the president.
On October 28, 2005, Libby was indicted on five felony counts (one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements, and two counts of perjury) by the US Department of Justice, Office of Special Counsel as part of the CIA leak grand jury investigation. On March 6, 2007, Libby was found guilty on four of the five counts with which he was charged: two counts of perjury, one of obstruction of justice, and one of making false statements to federal investigators. Libby's lawyers announced that he would seek a new trial, and, if that attempt fails, they plan to appeal Libby's conviction.
Libby became the focus of the Justice Department probe into who in the Bush administration leaked information to the media regarding Valerie Plame-Wilson and the fact that she was an agent with the CIA. The media would have us believe that it was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney, himself, who leaked Ms. Wilson's CIA identity, and that Scooter Libby was simply the "fall guy." When it was all said and done, no one was indicted for outing Ms. Wilson.
Let's quickly review the details in this case. In late 2001, the Bush administration decided to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was purchasing (or attempting to purchase) yellowcake uranium from Niger. The Bush administration inquired with the CIA as to who should be sent to Africa to investigate. The CIA reportedly chose one Joseph C. Wilson, who had been a former ambassador to Africa. It just so happens that Joseph Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame, and despite his liberal leanings, the Bush administration decided to send him to Niger.
Wilson went to Niger in early 2002 and returned to advise the Bush administration that he found no evidence that Niger had sold, or was planning to sell, yellowcake to Saddam Hussein. Despite Wilson's report, the Bush administration continued to believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was in the process of redeveloping its nuclear program.
On January 28, 2003, President Bush asserted in his State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This assertion outraged Joe Wilson. Wilson later told a New York Times reporter that he had told the CIA and the State Department that the uranium story was unequivocally wrong and was based on forged documents - prior to Bush's State of the Union address. Wilson, by the way, was no friend of the Bush administration, even before the controversy on uranium began.
According to the Associated Press "CIA Leak Timeline," here is how Scooter Libby got involved in this controversy. Keep in mind that Libby was Dick Cheney's chief of staff at this time. On May 29, 2003, Libby asked Marc Grossman, an undersecretary of state, for information about Wilson's trip to Niger. It is not known if Libby was ordered to look into Wilson's trip to Niger, or if he simply decided to do so on his own.
In the process of looking into Wilson's trip, Libby learned that Wilson was married to CIA agent Valerie Plame. Libby was also told by Grossman that there were people in the State Department who believed it was Valerie Plame who got the Niger job for her husband, and may well have planned the trip herself. On that same day, or the day after, Libby reportedly asked Vice President Cheney about Valerie Plame, and he confirmed that she was indeed CIA.
On June 14, 2003, Libby met with a CIA briefer and discussed Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame-Wilson. Details of that meeting are not known, but it is probably safe to assume that Wilson and Plame were shortly thereafter made aware that the White House was digging around for information about the two.
So, in early July, Joe Wilson submitted an editorial to the New York Times entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa," which the Times published on Sunday, July 6, 2003. In the piece, Wilson was critical of the Bush administration, and the editorial set off a firestorm in the media. On that same Sunday, Wilson appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press" and told Tim Russert that he doubted Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger recently, and that Cheney's office was told of the results of his trip. So, Wilson "went public" in a big way to get his story out, and took a direct shot at the Vice President in doing so.
Shortly thereafter, Russert had a conversation with Libby. Libby claimed that it was Tim Russert who told him that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. Russert denied that he ever said such a thing to Libby.
In the days following Wilson's editorial and appearance on Meet The Press, Libby was very busy talking to many reporters and downplaying Wilson's accusations. On July 12, 2003, Libby spoke with Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Cooper alleged that Libby told him in that conversation that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.
On July 14, syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction, and that two senior administration officials, whom Novak did not name, said it was Valerie Plame who had suggested sending her husband to Niger to investigate the uranium story.
Novak would not reveal his source for the information on Valerie Plame. In the wake of Wilson's public potshot at Vice President Cheney, many in the media assumed that it must have been Cheney who outed Valerie Plame, and if not Cheney, then it had to have been his chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
In late September 2003, a criminal investigation was authorized to determine who leaked Plame's identity to reporters. Disclosing the identity of CIA operatives is illegal. Libby was interviewed by FBI agents in October and November. On December 30, US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago, a tough and aggressive career prosecutor, was named to head the leak investigation after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In January 2004, a grand jury began investigating possible violations of federal criminal laws. Libby testified on two occasions in March. As noted above, on October 28, 2004, Libby was indicted on five counts: obstruction of justice and two counts each of making false statements and perjury.
Now fast-forward to September 7, 2006 for the blockbuster: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage admitted publicly that he leaked Plame's identity to Novak and to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Armitage said he did not realize Plame's job was covert. Woodward taped his June 13, 2003, interview with Armitage.
Libby Goes On Trial Anyway & Is Convicted
With the truth finally out there as to who outed Valerie Plame, many people just assumed the case against Libby would be dropped. Arguably, it should have been. However, prosecutor Fitzgerald felt that even if he couldn't prove that Libby outed Valerie Plame (before or after Armitage outed her), he still had a case against Libby on the grounds of obstruction of justice, lying and/or perjury. So, the trial was still on.
Since Tim Russert knew that he would be called upon to testify in the Libby trial, he launched a campaign against Scooter Libby well ahead of the trial. In what I would consider to be criminal behavior, Russert used his position at NBC News, in the run-up to the trial, to prejudice the jury pool. He covered and commented on the Libby case before, during and after the trial. This conduct was improper and unethical and a clear-cut violation of the code of conduct of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Bottom line, Tim Russert was orchestrating pre-trial publicity on his own behalf, likely in order to make the jury believe his version of events, and render a conviction of Libby. Russert, being the liberal he is, apparently felt that the end justified the means. No question, the judge in the trial should have put a stop to Russert's actions and kept such information from the jurors. Libby stayed silent during this period and did not refute Russert, on the advice of his lawyers.
So, on January 16, 2007, Libby's trial began in U.S. District Court. Numerous reporters testified on the question of whether Libby had told them of Valerie Plame's CIA connection. With one exception, all testified that Libby did not mention Plame or her CIA status. The only reporter who testified that Libby did tell him that Plame was CIA was Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper.
Cooper was not a very convincing witness, and could not prove that his version of his conversation with Libby was correct. Cooper didn't e-mail his editor about it, had no written notes to that effect, and did not write about it in print. So there was no hard proof that Libby outed Plame to Cooper. Six other reporters, including Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of the Post, David Sanger of the New York Times and Evan Thomas of Newsweek, spoke with Libby and testified that he never told them anything about Valerie Plame being CIA. This testimony should have proved that Libby was not out to get revenge on Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame.
But thanks largely to Tim Russert and others in the media, the jury came in pre-convinced to convict Scooter Libby. And they did. On March 6, 2007, the federal jury found Scooter Libby guilty of: 1) lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity; 2) two counts of perjury; 3) one count of making false statements; and 4) one count of obstruction of justice, while acquitting him of a single count of lying to the FBI.
Political Crimes: Sandy Berger Vs. Scooter Libby (Part III)
Interestingly, as of this writing, Scooter Libby still has not been sentenced. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Libby should receive a minimum of at least 1 1/2 - 3 years in federal prison, and perhaps considerably more given the multiple felony convictions. Plus, he will almost certainly be assessed large fines for his convictions. His life and career are ruined.
Drawing conclusions in two cases such as these is difficult, at least for me. Unfortunately, I am left with many more questions than answers. The obvious questions are:
1. What is worse: A high-level government official who steals and destroys highly classified 9/11 documents from the National Archives that might negatively impact the legacy of former president Bill Clinton; or a Bush administration staffer who forgot (or perhaps lied) about how he learned that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative?
2. Who got the correct sentence: Sandy Berger who got a $50,000 fine, a three-year suspension of his security clearance and no prison time; or Scooter Libby who was convicted of four felonies and will very likely spend several years in federal prison, plus possible large fines?
3. Why would a distinguished public servant like Sandy Berger risk his career and the possibility of going to prison if he were caught (as he was) for stealing classified documents from the National Archives?
4. Who other than Bill Clinton could have made such a request of Sandy Berger, and convinced the former National Security Advisor to carry it out at great risk to himself?
5. Will Sandy Berger be offered another high-level position in a Hillary Clinton administration should she win the presidency in 2008? I wouldn't rule it out, since the Clintons must now be in Berger's debt for attempting to bail Bill out.
Unfortunately, these are the easy questions. Never mind that they will probably never be answered. While Scooter Libby's sentencing and his subsequent appeal will be minor news items in the months ahead, we will not hear any more about Sandy Berger's illegal indiscretions - case is closed. The next we will hear about Sandy Berger, if anything, will be if Hillary wins and if he is granted a position in her administration.
But I have one final question that you don't hear discussed in the mainstream media, to round out this week's discussion. Pardon me in advance for the simplicity of my question, but...
B] What if Sandy Berger had been a Republican?[/B]
Follow me here. What if a Republican had stolen classified documents from the National Archives that could have negatively affected a Republican president? God forbid if it had been someone working for George W. Bush, who is so hated and reviled by the Left. There is no way in the last few years that a Republican would have gotten such a lenient sentence for stealing highly-classified and sensitive documents from the National Archives as Sandy Berger did.
Next, if Bill Clinton was able to convince (or coerce) Sandy Berger to risk his entire career by stealing classified documents from the National Archives, what is the payback for Sandy Berger? Perhaps he will get a high-level post in a Hillary Clinton administration, should she win. That would be a travesty on multiple levels, in my opinion.
Finally, let us not forget that Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress alleged that President Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses and abused power. Of the 11 counts laid out by Starr, five alleged that Clinton lied under oath in his January 17, 1998 deposition in the Paula Jones case and again in his August 17, 1998 Grand Jury testimony.
Did Bill Clinton serve any time in prison? Did he pay any fines? Was his career ruined? Hardly! He remains an international icon today. Go figure.
That's all for this week. Hope I made you think.
Very best regards,
Gary D. Halbert