WASHINGTON – Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, President Clinton’s national security adviser, has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of removing classified documents from the National Archives, a Justice Department official said Thursday.
Berger is expected to enter his plea today before U.S. District Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a $100,000 fine and a year of supervised release.
“Mr. Berger has cooperated fully with the Department of Justice and is pleased that a resolution appears very near,” Berger’s attorney, Lanny Breuer, a partner with Covington & Burling in Washington, said in a statement Thursday. “We will have further comment tomorrow.”
When the investigation into the missing papers was made public last July, Berger said he had been called to testify before the independent panel investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was trying to determine which documents were relevant to his testimony. His lawyer has said the papers he removed included drafts of a secret Clinton-administration analysis of its handling of a terrorist plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
Berger publicly apologized in July for removing the documents in fall 2003, calling the incident “an honest mistake … one that I deeply regret.” The charges by the Justice Department said he “knowingly” removed the papers without authorization.
The disclosure that Berger walked out of the archives with classified documents in his trousers and jacket set off an election-season partisan rift in Congress last year, with Republicans warning that Berger, by then an unpaid adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, had threatened national security, and Democrats accusing the White House of using a minor and possibly inadvertent transgression for political advantage. President Bush himself called it “a very serious matter.”
When the National Archives realized some documents were missing, it contacted Berger, who returned most of them but couldn’t find others, he later said. He said he “apparently had accidentally discarded them.”
Berger left the Kerry campaign shortly after the incident was disclosed.