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Watchdog says Berger hid classified papers

WASHINGTON -- On the evening of Oct. 2, 2003, former White House national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger stashed highly classified documents he had taken from the National Archives beneath a construction trailer at Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW so that he could surreptitiously retrieve them later and take them to his office, according to a newly disclosed government investigation.

The documents he took detailed how the Clinton administration had responded to the threat of terrorist attacks at the end of 1999. Berger removed five copies of the same document without authorization and later used scissors to destroy three before placing them in his office trash, the National Archives inspector general wrote in a Nov. 4, 2005, report.

After Archives officials confronted him and accused him of taking the documents, Berger told investigators he "tried to find the trash collector but had no luck." But instead of admitting he had removed them deliberately, Berger initially said he had removed them by mistake.

An Archives official claimed to have seen Berger fiddling with what appeared to be a piece of paper "rolled around his ankle and underneath his pant leg," but Berger told investigators he was pulling up his socks, which Berger said "frequently fall down."

The fact that Berger, one of President Clinton's closest aides from 1997 to 2001, illicitly removed the documents is well known: In September 2005, a federal judge ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine for his actions and forfeit his security clearance for three years.

But what Berger did, and the ham-handed and comical methods by which he did it, are freshly detailed in the National Archives report, which the Associated Press obtained first under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Berger's lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said in a statement yesterday that Berger "considers this matter closed."

He also said the Justice Department affirmed that Berger had no intent to hide the contents.

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