Sunday, March 11, 2007

Berger vs. Libby = Media vs. Honesty

Berger & Libby: A Tale of Two Crimes
By Michael Barone

"History will be kind to me," Winston Churchill once said, "for I intend to write it."

Indeed, he did. His multiple-volume histories of the two world wars are still widely read, though discounted by professional historians as incomplete and in some ways misleading.

Churchill is not the only politician who has wanted to write the history of his times; most politicians and political operatives want at least to shape the way history views their actions.

Some are better at this than others. In the previous century, Democrats did much better at this than Republicans.

Most of us still see the events of the first two-thirds of the 20th century through the words of gifted New Deal historians like the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who told the story as Franklin Roosevelt hoped and expected it to be told. And, to judge from the response to two recent criminal proceedings, Democrats are doing it better in this century, too.

The first of these criminal proceedings, not much noticed, was the plea bargain of former national security adviser Sandy Berger for removing classified documents from the National Archives, where he had been reviewing them under the authorization of Bill Clinton in preparation for testimony about 9/11.

What he admitted to doing, after first denying it, is extraordinary. On multiple occasions he removed documents from the room where he was reading them, concealed them in his pants and socks, hid them at a construction site outside the building, took them home, and, in some cases, destroyed them.

Some of these documents may have been unique and may have contained handwritten comments that could have looked bad in light of what happened on September 11. I have known Berger more than 30 years and find it unlikely that he would have done something like this on his own.

Did Bill Clinton ask him to destroy documents that would make him look bad in history? I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I ask that question. But this or something very much like it seems to be the only explanation that makes sense. The Berger case was prosecuted by career staff in the Department of Justice, with little publicity. In 2005 Berger was fined $50,000 -- not a ruinous sum for one of his earning capacity -- ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, and had his security clearance lifted for three years, which means he could come back in a new administration after the 2008 election. The attempt to write, or un-write, history -- if it was that -- evidently succeeded.

Berger's treatment was light compared with that of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuted him for perjury and obstruction of justice for making statements contradicted by journalists Tim Russert and Matt Cooper, and last week, the 11-member jury found him guilty on four counts. He could face years in jail. The case arose out of attempts by Libby and others to refute the charges of retired diplomat Joseph Wilson that the administration had manipulated intelligence before the Iraq war.

Wilson is the Titus Oates of our time, a liar whose lies served the needs of a political faction. Oates's lie was that there was a "popish plot" to murder King Charles II; Wilson's lie was part of the "Bush lied and people died" mantra that has become the canonical version of history to much of the mainstream media and the Democratic Party.

Wilson's story, retailed to journalists and then presented in a column in The New York Times, was that he had debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger and that his report had circulated in the highest levels of the administration; he suggested that he had been sent to Niger in response to a request by Cheney.

In fact, as a 2004 bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee found, all those claims were false, as well as his denial that his wife had recommended him for the Niger trip.

Still, the "Bush lied and people died" mantra resonates. Yet there was no lie. Given Saddam Hussein's previous use of weapons of mass destruction and his refusal to cooperate with weapons inspectors, George W. Bush had to assume he had WMDs, just as Bill Clinton had before him -- as we were reminded by Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech in favor of the Iraq war resolution.

The Libby verdict in no way undercuts that. But the Republicans are running behind in the battle to write history

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David said...

Actually it's Misdemeanor v. Felony.

Perjury and Obstruction of Justice = Felonies; Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Material = Misdemeanor.

This isn't the only distinction though. Another critical one was Sandy Berger's guilty plea v. Scooter Libby's protestations of innocence. Even the most casual viewer of Law and Order will note that you are almost guaranteed to get a better deal if you plead out before trial than if you wait until you're convicted after a costly and lengthy criminal trial.

Oh, and the severity of the two crimes may have something to do with their sentencing. Here is what the Wall Street Journal (not a friend to liberals) reported about the incident:

"Justice says the picture that emerged is of a man who knowingly and recklessly violated the law in handling classified documents, but who was not trying to hide any evidence. Prosecutors believe Mr. Berger genuinely wanted to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission but felt he was somehow above having to spend numerous hours in the Archives as the rules required, and that he didn't exactly know how to return the documents once he'd taken them out. We called Justice Department Public Integrity chief prosecutor Noel Hillman, who assured us that Mr. Berger did not deny any documents to history. 'There is no evidence that he intended to destroy originals,' said Mr. Hillman. 'There is no evidence that he did destroy originals. We have objectively and affirmatively confirmed that the contents of all the five documents at issue exist today and were made available to the 9/11 Commission."

BTW, all of this crowing and sabre rattling over Clinton's now nearly 8 years past Presidency is not getting you anywhere. He was elected President...twice. It's a fact. Get over it and move on with your lives already.

I mean, I'm pretty pissed off that there's a 2 yr. term limit, because if there wasn't I'm relatively certain our country would be more prosperous, safer and fairer under a 4 term Pres. Clinton, but I'm living with it. I don't get upset about it every single day.

Anonymous said...

Clinton's presidncy was disasterous for our nation in just about every way with the exception of the tech boom which Clinton had nothing to do with.

From putting terrorism on the back burner to presiding over one of the most ethically challenged administrations in History. History will not smile upon his legacy, while that of the current president is yet to be written.

What is certain however is that Bush will be considred a far more consequential commander in chief, regardless of the results of the War on Terror.

How would we be more prosperous with higher taxes?

And if Berger ddn't destory the documents, then where are they?

Falling Panda said...

You're drinking the kool-aid david.

First of all, afer all of the evidence was made availiable, The WSJ reversed their
defense of Berger from the early editorial.

He was up to something, and while in legal terms it may differ from the Libby case,
in most peoples minds, stealing classified documents regarding national security
matters is far worse that fogetting when you talked to someone about something that
turned out not to be a crime in the first place.

I agree with annonymous. The Clinton legacy is overwhelmingly negative. Even his
two biggest accomplishments come with a catch.

Welfare reform, which he was dragged kicking and screaming into by the GOP and NAFTA
which half of his own party is now against. Wonder what his wife will say about that one?

David said...

President Clinton was the greatest American President in my lifetime, perhaps in this Century. Unfortunately, his policies threatened the core of the money-churning machines (which trickle very little down to our economy as most of the $ ends up overseas) that continue to grind down the working man and woman and reduce the standard of living in this country for the poor and middle classes.

For this valiant attempt, he was attacked like no other President in history.

But, back to the issue at hand. You are correct that the Wall Street Journal retracted their initial comments about the Berger case in January of 2007 (my apologies, I was not trying to be deceitful), on the grounds that they now believe Berger took multiple copies of the documents. However, the archive is still intact and nothing has been destroyed. Wikipedia has this to say regarding the retraction:

"The report did, however, cause the Wall Street Journal to, in January 2007, retract their initial opinion of the case, saying there are substantial questions concerning the truth of Berger's statements and that other documents may have been removed. They now argue that Berger's taking of multiple copies of the same document contradict his statement that he took them only for his personal research, since they note that he could have simply kept his copy. However neither they, nor the committee report, detail an alternate theory in which multiple thefts of the same document are key. Mr. Berger continues to insist that he took the copies of the same document for personal convenience, and thought them overclassified (i.e. the information they contained was not actually sensitive to national security)." you believe then that we should de-criminalize perjury and obstruction of justice...make them misdemeanors and increase the penalties for "Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Material"?

Probably. I know that you cool-aid drinkers on the right feel that it's often appropriate to re-write laws to make them tougher or weaker depending upon who the accused happens to be. think it's extreme to call you fascist! Ha. Ha.

Dan said...

Listening to the "alternate theory" is like listening to Clinton explain what the definition of "is" is.

The poor and middle class in this nation have the highest standard of living of any of those in similar economic classes around the world, and it's because of these "money churning machines" that you speak of that they are able to hold jobs and occasionally innovate and make their way up the ladder.

Yes Clinton's policies, like any tax raisers would, threatend economic growth in this nation, but due to inovation and "money churning machines" we compensated for a top tax rate of 39%.

And you wanna know what else? The move towards disastourous European style economic stagnation starts with Universial Health Care. I'll be writing a piece next week as to why we need to wake up and stop that disaster, waiting in the wings.

David said...

I look forward to that debate. I seem to recall that you recently characterized the movement toward a "single payer" system as "lazy".

Really? I don't think constructing a working, effective single payer system is lazy at all. In fact, it would be incredibly difficult to construct, especially because we would not want to repeat the mistakes of other systems.

When we borrowed our form of Government from other countries, it was not easy, but we constructed a system that avoided the pitfalls of other democracies and worked for all people...eventually. We can do the same with healthcare, and I believe it is our sacred duty to find a way.

What is not changing the system, letting the less fortunate among us fall through the cracks and allowing "for profit" insurers to control who gets care, how much and when. That is a national tragedy and a disgrace.

Dan said...

what's lazy is not taking the time to come up with a solution which is balanced between the government and the private sector in favor of one which simply puts the governemnt in control of everything, no questions asked. It's the easy way out,similar to the disasters of the Great Society, but times 100.

David said...

So...your plan is?