In a January 11 article headlined “JURY PROBES EX-BILL AIDE'S 'SOCKS DOCS',” the New York Post reported that a federal grand jury is investigating former Clinton national security adviser Samuel “Sandy” Berger for allegedly illegally removing classified documents and personal notes from the National Archives. In this report and a follow-up article the next day, the Post rehashed the same unsupported claims that it and other news outlets forwarded in the midst of a July 2004 media frenzy that followed the original report that the FBI was investigating the incident.
The January 11 Post article reported that Berger “illegally sneaked top-secret documents out of the National Archives -- possibly in his socks” and that he accidentally destroyed “documents with handwritten notes that don't appear on other copies.” The Post also forwarded conservatives' claims that “Berger pilfered the documents because they were embarrassing to Clinton and Clinton aides such as Berger.” But there is no evidence to support these claims. Conservatives seized on the report of the FBI investigation into the incident to claim that Berger had been trying to withhold information from the 9-11 Commission, as Media Matters for America documented when this misinformation first surfaced. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported that archives officials investigating the matter found that “no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the [9-11] commission.”
On January 11, conservative news website WorldNetDaily, news service United Press International (UPI), and FOX News host Brit Hume forwarded versions of the story apparently based on the Post's report.
UNSUPPORTED CLAIM #1: Berger placed documents “in his pants and his socks”
The January 11 Post article stated: “The probe was touched off last spring when stunned archives staffers reported seeing Berger sneak classified documents out of a top-secret reading room in his pants and socks while vetting Clinton-era items for the commission.” A January 12 Post article headlined "'SOCKS DOCS' JURY GRILLS CLINTON CRONY" repeated the accusation, claiming that Berger “sneaked the national security documents out of the Archives -- possibly in his socks.” (A July 21, 2004, Post editorial titled “Socked” stated: "[I]t wasn't just his pants into which Berger says he stuffed a bunch of classified documents to sneak them out of the National Archives: He crammed some into his socks, too.") FOX News' Hume mentioned the recent Post article during his “Grapevine” segment on the January 11 edition of FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, reporting that "[w]itnesses at the time said they saw Berger stuff the documents into his socks and pants."
Berger never said that he put the documents in his pants or his socks, and there is no on-the-record substantiation of the charge that he did so. In fact, as Media Matters previously documented, Berger and his lawyer, Lanny Breuer, have said for the record that: 1) Berger inadvertently put several copies of classified documents into a leather portfolio he was carrying; and 2) that Berger put handwritten notes, which he had made while reviewing the documents, in his jacket and in his pants pockets. Breuer was quoted in the July 21, 2004, New York Times as saying that while Berger had put his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants pockets, “If there's a suggestion that he's shoving things down his pants, that is categorically false and ridiculous.”
UNSUPPORTED CLAIM #2: Berger may have accidentally destroyed “documents with handwritten notes that don't appear on other copies”
From the January 11 Post article: “Berger has also acknowledged that he destroyed some documents -- he says by accident. It's unclear if he destroyed documents with handwritten notations that don't appear on other copies.”
But according to a July 30, 2004, Wall Street Journal report, archives officials investigating the matter found that “no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the [9-11] commission,” as Media Matters has noted.
UNSUPPORTED CLAIM #3: Berger stole the documents in order to cover for the Clinton administration
Also from the January 11 Post article: “Some Republicans, such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert, have charged that Berger pilfered the documents because they were embarrassing to Clinton and Clinton aides such as Berger.”
In light of the archives officials' findings that “no original materials are missing,” as The Wall Street Journal reported, the accusation that Berger might have been trying to hide particular documents is completely unfounded. The Journal article acknowledged Republican suspicions that Berger “may have removed documents that were potentially damaging” to former President Bill Clinton's record and then stated:
The conclusion by archives officials and others [that no originals are missing] would seem to lay to rest the issue of whether any information was permanently destroyed or withheld from the commission.
Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said officials there “are confident that there aren't any original documents missing in relation to this case.” She said in most cases, Mr. Berger was given photocopies to review, and that in any event officials have accounted for all originals to which he had access.
That included all drafts of a so-called after-action report prepared by the White House and federal agencies in 2000 after the investigation into a foiled bombing plot aimed at the Millennium celebrations.
A January 11 UPI article cited the Post and repeated the following Republican charge, which as noted above has been found to be meritless: “Some Republicans, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., have charged the documents were taken because they might embarrass the former president.” A January 11 WorldNetDaily article based in part on the Post report also repeated that meritless charge, as well as falsely reporting that “some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration were found to be missing.”
The Post is the only newspaper to report that the Berger matter is now before a grand jury; other news reports were based on the Post report.