Washington Former national security adviser Sandy Berger, who once had unfettered access to the government's most sensitive secrets, pleaded guilty Friday to sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives, then using scissors to cut up some of them.
Rather than the "honest mistake" he described last summer, Berger acknowledged to U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson that he intentionally took and deliberately destroyed three copies of the same document dealing with terror threats during the 2000 millennium celebration. He then lied about it to Archives staff when they told him documents were missing.
"Guilty, your honor," Berger responded Friday when asked how he pleaded.
Robinson did not ask Berger why he cut up the materials and threw them away at the Washington office of his Stonebridge International consulting firm. Berger, accompanied by his wife, Susan, did not offer an explanation when he addressed reporters outside the federal courthouse after the hearing.
"It was a mistake and it was wrong," he said, refusing to answer questions.
Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department's public integrity section, would not discuss Berger's motivation, but said the former national security adviser understood the rules governing the handling of classified materials. Berger only had copies of documents; all of the originals remain in the government's possession, Hillman said.
The charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.
However, under a plea agreement that still must be approved by Robinson, Berger would serve no jail time but pay a $10,000 fine.