Berger expressed regret over the incident, which
he called an "honest mistake."
His decision to quit the Kerry campaign came as
both parties sought to use the investigation to gain
political advantage or to control damage.
Republicans said the probe raises questions about
whether the former Clinton administration official
was trying to hide embarrassing materials from the
public. Democrats questioned why disclosure of a
months-old investigation came just before Thursday's
release of the final report by the commission
investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
The report is expected to be highly critical of
the government's handling of the pre-Sept. 11 terror
"So is this about Sandy Berger, or is this about
politics?" asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Former President Clinton (news
web sites) also weighed in, telling reporters at
a Denver autograph session for his book "My Life"
that "it's interesting timing."
Berger served as national security adviser for
all of Clinton's second term. "I know him. He's a
good man. He worked his heart out for this country,"
Speaking to reporters outside his office Tuesday,
Berger said: "Last year, when I was in the Archives
reviewing documents, I made an honest mistake. It's
one that I deeply regret.
"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."
The Justice Department (news
web sites) is investigating whether Berger
committed a crime by removing from the National
Archives documents about the government's
anti-terror efforts and notes that he took on those
documents. Berger was reviewing the materials to
help determine which Clinton administration
documents to provide to the Sept. 11 commission.
Berger and his lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said the
former Clinton adviser knowingly removed the
handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket and
pants and inadvertently took copies of actual
classified documents in a leather portfolio.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told
reporters the case was about theft and questioned a
statement by Berger issued Monday attributing the
removal of the documents and notes to sloppiness.
Along with putting documents in his coat and pants,
Berger acknowledged removing some documents in a
portfolio. He returned most of the documents, but
some still are missing.
"That's not sloppy," DeLay said. "I think its
gravely, gravely serious what he did, if he did it.
It could be a national security crisis."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he was
"profoundly troubled" by the allegations, adding
that Berger "has a lot of explaining to do."
Breuer said Berger has offered to cooperate with
investigators. He said the decision to step aside
from the Kerry campaign was done because "Mr. Berger
does not want any issue surrounding the 9/11
commission to be used for partisan purposes."
Kerry said later: "Sandy Berger is my friend, and
he has tirelessly served this nation with honor and
distinction. I respect his decision to step aside as
an adviser to this campaign until this matter is
resolved objectively and fairly."
Deputy Attorney General James Comey would not
comment on the investigation other than that in
general the Justice Department regards takes "very,
very seriously" allegations of mishandled classified
"It's our lifeblood, those secrets," Comey said.
The documents involved have been a key point of
contention between the Clinton and Bush
administrations on the question of who responded
more forcefully to the threat of al-Qaida terrorism.
Written by former National Security Council aide
Richard Clarke, they discuss the 1999 plot to attack
U.S. millennium celebrations and offer more than two
dozen recommendations for improving the response to
Osama bin Laden (news
web sites)'s al-Qaida network.
In his April 13 testimony to the Sept. 11
commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft (news
web sites) said the review "warns the prior
administration of a substantial al-Qaida network" in
the United States. Ashcroft said it also recommends
such things as using tougher visa and border
controls and prosecutions of immigration violations
and minor criminal charges to disrupt terror cells.
"These are the same aggressive, often-criticized
law enforcement tactics that we have unleashed for
31 months to stop another al-Qaida attack," Ashcroft
told the panel. He added that he never saw the
documents before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Berger said in his March 23 testimony that
Clinton submitted a $300 million supplemental budget
to Congress to pay for implementing many of the
documents' recommendations. Berger acknowledged,
however, that not all of them were accomplished.
In his statement Monday, Berger said that every
Clinton administration document requested by the
Sept. 11 commission was provided to the panel.
Berger also said he returned some classified
documents and all his handwritten notes when he was
asked about them, except for two or three copies of
the millennium report that may have been thrown
Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the Sept. 11
commission, said the Berger investigation will have
no bearing on the panel's highly anticipated report.
"This is a matter between the government and an
individual," Felzenberg said. "They were not our
documents, and we believe we have access to all the
materials we need to see to do our report."
On the Net:
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