WASHINGTON – Some classified documents that were unlawfully removed from the National Archives three years ago may never have reached their intended destination — the Sept. 11 commission, a House Republican report concluded Tuesday.
The report contradicted Justice Department conclusions that the commission received all the necessary documents. The records were reviewed at the archives by the Clinton administration's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, who pleaded guilty in April 2005 to unlawfully removing several documents.
Released by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the report said Berger could have taken White House staff working papers that never were inventoried by the archives. In that case, nobody would know they were gone, the report said.
The Justice Department on Tuesday repeated its original position that no documents were withheld. Spokesman Bryan Sierra said the department "has no evidence that Sandy Berger's actions deprived the 9/11 Commission of documents, and we stand by our investigation of this matter."
Berger pleaded guilty to removing documents on two occasions in 2003. A report by the archives inspector general last month said that Berger acknowledged hiding some of them at a construction site near the archives building in Washington.
The report said, however, that the plea did not account for two earlier visits during which Berger reviewed documents. He conducted the review to prepare himself and other Clinton aides for testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The 9/11 Commission relied on incomplete and misleading information" when it was told it had all the records, said Davis. The ranking Republican on the House Government Reform Committee, Davis started working on the report when he was chairman prior to the Democratic takeover of Congress.
Davis' report quoted Noel Hillman, then-chief of the department's Public Integrity Section, as stating at the time of the 2005 plea that Berger did not have an intent to hide any of the documents or conceal facts from the commission.
Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Berger attorney Lanny Breuer, said, "I can state unequivocally that no documents were withheld, and that all documents that Mr. Berger took were disclosed to the Justice Department and the inspector general of the archives."
The report said that since working papers reviewed by Berger were not inventoried, "the Department of Justice could not assure the 9/11 Commission that it received all responsive documents to which Berger had access. Additionally, the 9/11 Commission was not informed that Berger had access to original documents that he could have removed without anyone's knowledge," the report said.
In September 2005, Berger was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service, pay a $50,000 fine and to lose his security clearance for three years.
The report said the Justice Department "was unacceptably incurious" about two of Berger's four visits to the National Archives — one in May 2002 and the other in July 2003.
The department "never notified the 9/11 Commission that Berger viewed a large number of original documents on these first two visits," the report said.