09/12/05 — Footnote: Sandy Berger gets a slap on the wrist

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Footnote: Sandy Berger gets a slap on the wrist

Sandy Berger was sentenced Thursday for stealing classified documents. It was little more than a historical footnote.

Berger was fined $50,000, which won’t cause a ripple for him or for any benefactors in the Bill Clinton fraternity who might wish to contribute.

He got no jail time. That was a condition of a bargain he made last April when he agreed to plead guilty.

Under the plea arrangement, he also was to be fined just $10,000, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson couldn’t stomach that. She raised the fine to $50,000, saying that amount better reflected the gravity of the crime.

You might remember the case from two years ago, Berger, who had been President Clinton’s national security adviser, was doing a favor for Clinton and other officials of his administration. It was illegal, and he got caught.

Berger has spent a part of his career doing favors for Clinton. He was the national security adviser from 1997 though 2000. A highlight of his tenure — or lowlight — was his unofficial appointment as Clinton’s point man for the sect called Scientology.

Actor John Travolta, who belonged to the sect, got an audience with Berger at a propitious moment. Travolta was to play a Clinton-like politician in the movie “Primary Colors.” The fact that a politician naturally would want to be portrayed favorably in a movie probably was not mentioned. But, on the eve of the portrayal, Travolta asked Berger for a favor.

He wanted the administration to intercede in a problem that the Scientologists were having with Germany. The German government wouldn’t recognize Scientology as a church, putting it at a financial disadvantage.

Berger and Clinton agreed to try to help and, eventually, the U.S. State Department lambasted the Germans for what it called discrimination.

The next time the public got wind of a favor that Berger did for the Clintonites was in the run-up to the 9/11 hearings in 2003.

The former security adviser went to the National Archives, purportedly to research Clinton administration papers on intelligence involving al-Qaida.

He stole some highly classified documents by stuffing them into into his clothes, including his trousers and socks. Later, he said that he had taken them to his own office and shredded them with scissors. It would be safe to assume that these documents did not put the Clinton administration in a good light.

When National Archives employees reported the thefts and law enforcement officers questioned Berger, he said he had intentionally taken some of his own notes from the archives, but that he took the other papers by accident. That didn’t add up, and Berger later admitted that he had lied.

One interesting aspect of the case is this:

Martha Stewart went to prison for prison for lying to investigators about a case in which she was never even charged. Sandy Berger committed a crime and then lied to investigators about it, and he never spent a day behind bars.

Published in Editorials on September 12, 2005 9:57 AM