May 23, 2010
The Senator from Sandy Berger
In 1934, "Boss" Tom Pendergast handpicked a Jackson County administrative judge to be the next United States senator from Missouri, and for the next ten years Harry Truman wore the tag, "The Senator from Pendergast."
Truman began to find his own footing after Pendergast was shipped off to nearby Leavenworth in 1939, but until then, he pretty much carried Pendergast's water in Washington.
Should Democrat Joe Sestak be elected the next United States senator from Pennsylvania -- he beat Arlen Specter handily on Tuesday -- he might best be known as the "Senator from Sandy Berger." Sestak owes his political career to Berger. Were there any justice in Washington, Berger would himself be in Leavenworth, and for crimes far more damaging than any Pendergast ever committed.
In the way of background, according to the New York Times, Berger served as "the point man for the [Clinton] White House's China policy." That policy, unfortunately, had more to do with advancing Bill Clinton's desperate quest for reelection in 1996 than it did with advancing America's interests in the world.
During Clinton's first term, Sandy Berger, then deputy national security advisor, had begun plotting to undermine the professionals from the National Security Council, State, and Defense who were resisting the wholesale transfer of licensing authority for satellites and other potential military technology to the Commerce Department. Once moved to Commerce, the military feared it would lose veto power over exports.
American technical advice was making Chinese threats against Taiwan and even America more than empty boasts. And yet in their relentless drive to raise money, the Clintons were fully prepared to broker that advice. In March 1996, Berger pressed on and managed to send satellite control to Commerce. Said Clinton at the time, "Industry should like the fact that they will deal with the more 'user friendly' Commerce system." Industry did. So did China. And the Clinton campaign coffers swelled accordingly.
Senator Fred Thompson's Committee report sums up their shenanigans:
The president and his aides demeaned the offices of the president and vice president, took advantage of minority groups, pulled down all the barriers that would normally be in place to keep out illegal contributions, pressured policy makers, and left themselves open to strong suspicion that they were selling not only access to high-ranking officials, but policy as well. Millions of dollars were raised in illegal contributions, much of it from foreign sources.
Clinton rewarded Berger for his trust with the job of National Security Advisor in his second term. This job did not require Senate confirmation. It is unlikely that Berger could have gotten any job that did. In 2002, according to the House report, Clinton "designated Berger as his representative to review NSC documents" in relation to the 9/11 inquiry. Berger was still Clinton's go-to inside guy. As we now know, Berger made four trips to the National Archives. He did so presumably to refresh his memory before testifying first to the Graham-Goss Commission and then to the 9/11 Commission. Berger made his first visit in May 2002, his last in October 2003.
As we now know too, he stole and destroyed an incalculable number of documents during these four visits. "The full extent of Berger's document removal," reports the House Committee, "is not known and never can be known."
As proposed punishment, the Department of Justice recommended a preposterously slight $10,000 fine and a three-year loss of security clearance for Berger, which would get him back in the ballgame in time for a potential Clinton resurrection in 2008. In fact, he was back in the political game by the spring of 2006.
Berger, now chairman of the "global strategy firm," Stonebridge Resources, began his rehabilitation in March 2006 with a fundraiser for Joesph Sestak, a former vice admiral forced into retirement for what the U.S. Navy charitably called "poor command climate." Before being recruited to run for Congress by the Clinton shadow government, Sestak had expressed no political ambitions and had not lived in his Pennsylvania district for thirty years.
Although hosted by Berger, the fundraiser was held at the law offices of Harold Ickes, a veteran Clinton fixer, and Janice Enright, the treasurer of Hillary Clinton's 2006 Senate campaign. Kicking in to support Sestak was a who's-who of Clinton national security exiles. These included former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Richard "Against All Enemies" Clarke, former national security adviser Anthony Lake, former White House chief of staff John Podesta, and Hillary Clinton herself.
Berger was not the only Sestak supporter to have a cloud hanging over his head. Donor John Deutch, formerly Director of Central Intelligence, had signed a criminal plea agreement in connection with his mishandling of national secrets a day before being pardoned by the outgoing President Clinton.
Another interesting contribution came in from Mary O. McCarthy, recently dismissed by the CIA reportedly for failing a polygraph on leaked classified information in regard to CIA prisons overseas. As it happened, a timely leak shortly before the 2006 election would ultimately do in Sestak's Republican opponent.
Before the campaign was through, Clinton insiders would enlist Stonebridge's Director of Communications to serve as Sestak's campaign spokesperson, summon former president Clinton to rally the troops, and finally call in the federales. Their reasons for supporting Sestak were transparent even to the local media. "A Sestak victory," observed suburban Philadelphia's Delco Times early in the campaign, "would muzzle a Republican congressman who blames Clinton for doing irreparable harm to America's national security during the 1990s."
That Congresman was ten-term Republican Curt Weldon. Weldon had committed one unforgivable crime: investigating the intelligence failures of the Clinton era. Payback began in 2004 after The Los Angeles Times ran a series on members of Congress whose family members lobby or work as consultants. The Weldon family member in the spotlight was his daughter, Karen Weldon. In 2002, the then-28-year-old had co-founded Solutions North America, a business consultancy.
That much said, as the Times also acknowledged, "Congressional ethics rules provide few barriers to the practice. They do not forbid members of Congress from helping companies or others who are paying their relatives." The House Ethics Committee, in fact, cleared Weldon of any wrongdoing.
That was not clearance enough for the mischief-makers from the George Soros-funded watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Melanie Sloan, a former assistant United States attorney and now the executive director of CREW, petitioned the Justice Department to investigate Weldon and determine whether the congressman had violated a federal bribery law. This petition, once executed and amplified, would spell the end of Weldon's career.
Sloan had been recruited just the year before by a pair of wealthy Democratic activists, Norman Eisen and Louis Mayberg. Sloan, then an assistant United States attorney in Washington, D.C., saw the potential in their brainchild, signed on, and nurtured CREW to life.
In principle, CREW was to function as a nonpartisan operation. Its presumed target: "government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests." In reality, however, CREW has emerged as something of a dirty tricks operation for a truly worrisome cabal known as the Democratic Alliance. The Alliance even worried the Washington Post. The subhead of a July 2006 article on the Alliance read, "Some in Party Bristle at Secrecy and Liberal Tilt."
To join the Democratic Alliance, a prospective "partner" had to put up a $25,000 entry fee and annual dues of $30,000. In addition, partners had to invest at least $200,000 each year in organizations, like CREW, that the Alliance endorsed. The Post quoted Alliance partner and former Loral Space & Communications CEO Bernard Schwartz as saying that the group offers partners "an array of opportunities that have passed their smell test."
If Schwartz's history is at all typical, the Alliance partners could use an operation like CREW to watch their respective backs. In February 1996, after the failure in China of the Long March 3B rocket, Schwartz dispatched a Loral-led review team to review the crash and suggest refinements.
The Cox Committee in the House would later describe Schwartz's actions as "an unlicensed defense service for the PRC [People's Republic of China] that resulted in the improvement of the reliability of the PRC's military rockets and ballistic missiles."
So serious was the offense that in 1998 the Justice Department launched an investigation. Incredibly, while the investigation was in process, Sandy Berger, then the National Security Adviser, initiated a retroactive waiver for Schwartz that would make prosecution impossible. In that Schwartz had given $630,000 to the DNC in the 1996 election cycle, the most of any donor, President Clinton approved the waiver, and the case against Schwartz died on the spot.
In December 1997, despite his act of borderline treason, Schwartz celebrated his 71st birthday at the White House with the Clintons. The media chose not to get excited about any of this. Weldon did. In fact, he traces his targeting by the Clintons and their allies to his investigations of the White House's self-destructive technology transfers with the People's Republic. This alone may explain Berger's active role in Weldon's undoing.
Beginning with the third of Berger's four visits to the Archives in September 2003, when Berger was first caught in the act of stealing documents, Paul Brachfeld, the Inspector General of the National Archives, tried to alert the Justice Department to the scope and seriousness of the theft.
On January 14, 2004, the day Berger first testified before the 9/11 Commission, Brachfeld met with DOJ attorney Howard Sklamberg. Concerned that Berger had obstructed the 9/11 Commission's work, Brachfeld wanted assurance that the Commission knew of Berger's crime and the potential ramifications of it. He did not get it. On March 22, two days before Berger's public testimony, senior DOJ attorneys John Dion and Bruce Swartz got back to Brachfeld. They informed him that the DOJ was not going to notify the 9/11 Commission of the Berger investigation before Berger's appearance.
The House report singles out Swartz as the one attorney most adamantly protective of Berger. Swartz refused to admit that Berger could have stolen documents in his first two visits despite Brachfeld's insistence that he had the means and the motive. Frustrated, Brachfeld called DOJ's Inspector General Glenn Fine on April 6 and again expressed his concern that the 9/11 Commission remained unaware of Berger's actions. Again, nothing happened.
Brachfeld never did succeed in persuading the DOJ of the potential seriousness of Berger's sabotage. As the House report concluded, "The lack of interest in Berger's first two visits is disturbing." The DOJ also declined to submit Berger to a polygraph exam as required by his plea agreement.
If these DOJ attorneys were "unacceptably incurious" across the board, one could write off their inaction to bureaucratic sloth. But at the same time Dion and Swartz were cosseting Sandy Berger, they were eagerly campaigning to out the rascal who blew CIA agent Valerie Plame's imagined cover.
"Those who have worked with Dion say he will not shy away from advocating charges against any high-level Bush administration official if that's where the investigation leads," read a hopeful AP piece.
Among the colleagues quoted was Dion's immediate supervisor, Bruce Swartz. Even after Patrick Fitzgerald took over the Plame investigation, Dion and Swartz stayed on the team, Swartz reportedly as second-in-command. Swartz, Sklamberg, Fine, and Dion were all held over from the Clinton administration. Although Dion has no obvious record of federal contributions, Fine, Swartz, and Sklamberg have contributed to Democratic candidates only in federal races.
Liberated by the DOJ, Berger, along with his Clinton allies, would invest more money and energy in Weldon's removal than that of any other congressman. And for one good reason: The intrepid Weldon posed a genuine risk to Bill's legacy and Hillary's future. By means fair or foul, he had to go.
Unbeknownst to Weldon, the FBI had opened an investigation into his and his daughter's business interests some time in the spring of 2006, roughly eighteen months after Sloan filed her complaint and just about the time Sestak's campaign was kicking into high gear.
Although Sloan would claim to be mystified by the FBI's delay in investigating Weldon, future events would suggest a coordinated effort within the Department of Justice. In the summer or early fall of 2006, The FBI formally referred the Weldon matter to the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section for followup. Public Integrity is the home of, among others, Howard Sklamberg.
If Weldon were unaware of the judicial operation against him, he could not miss the political one. On Sunday, September 24, 2006, during former president Bill Clinton's unhinged performance on FOX News with Chris Wallace, the nation saw just how big were the guns aimed at Weldon. Other than George Bush, Clinton mentioned only one other Republican by name.
"A three-star admiral," he announced out of nowhere, "who was on my National Security Council staff, who also fought terror, by the way, is running for the seat of Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania."
Without meaning to, Clinton also suggested why the war on Weldon was so important. For postmodernists like Clinton, those in power have the ability to impose their "narrative" on those without power and call it truth. To preserve his version of events leading up 9/11, he had dispatched Sandy Berger to the National Archives, at the risk of Berger's career and reputation, to edit the official record.
Ten days after the FOX interview, On October 4, Clinton descended on Weldon's Pennsylvania district. "I will not make a single stop in this campaign season that means more to me than this one -- not one," he told a crowd of nearly nine hundred at a Sestak rally. On this occasion, at least, Clinton was telling the truth.
At the time, Weldon, who had secured 59 percent of the vote in 2004, held a seven-point lead in the polls over the novice Sestak. That was not to stand. During the week after Clinton's visit, events took a less public but more sinister turn. Who orchestrated these events I cannot say for sure. If I were investigating, I would certainly want to question former assistant U.S. attorney Melanie Sloan and the assistant U.S. attorneys within the DOJ who shared her Democratic sympathies, especially Howard Sklamberg, Bruce Swartz, and Glenn Fine.
What we do know is this: On October 13, Greg Gordon of the liberal McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau broke a powerful and damning story, namely that the Justice Department was investigating whether Weldon had traded his influence for "lucrative" lobbying contracts for his daughter.
Gordon referred to "two sources," both anonymous. One he described as "a federal law enforcement official." The second he did not describe at all. This cagey lack of further detail suggests that the second source may not have been a federal official, at least not at the time.
Although Gordon conceded that "it is possible at this stage of the investigation that nothing will come of it" -- nothing ever did -- this uncertainty did not stop the McClatchy Newspapers from blasting the anonymous leak nationwide. Still, Gordon had not come looking for this story. Someone had to alert him to it and introduce him to two sources willing to talk.
There could have been no other motivation for this calculated leak than interference in the electoral process. For Weldon, things got ugly quickly. On Monday morning, October 16, the FBI raided the homes of Weldon's daughter and a friend, allegedly for fear that documents would be destroyed if they did not do so. The leak prompted these very public raids.
By noon of that same day, a group of nearly twenty Democratic activists were protesting outside Weldon's district office in Upper Darby, carrying matching signs that read, "Caught Red-Handed." This too had to be coordinated. On November 7, Sestak won with 56% of the vote. Americans, we were told, had had enough of that Republican "culture of corruption."
In December 2006, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee with serious egg on his face. According to the Associated Press, he confessed to being "exceptionally disappointed" about the leak made public on October 13, 2006 that Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon was under investigation for influence-peddling.
The question that the media should have asked is "Why Weldon?" What about the man inspired Sandy Berger, the Clintons, the Democratic Alliance, CREW, and just about every key player in the Clinton national security apparatus to want him gone?
The question the media should be asking now is "Why Sestak?"
See also: Will Toomey Play Hardball with Sestak?
See also: Will Toomey Play Hardball with Sestak?
Jack Cashill's latest book is Popes and Bankers.