Editors note: This the second in a four-part series detailing how and why a collaboration of Democratic activists conspired to unseat Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon in the November 2006 elections. Read part 1.
Former Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa.
I met Rep. Curt Weldon for the first (and only) time in July 2006. He graciously consented to assist me in some research I was doing. I, in turn, was able to help connect some of the dots in the chain of forces aligned against him.
All dots led to former national security adviser and current chairman of the “global strategy firm,” Stonebridge Resources, Sandy Berger. As Weldon then knew, Berger would not go down easily.
In fact, Berger was in the process of pulling off a brazen, political drive-by on Weldon, the one legislator who most seriously threatened the Clinton legacy and his own reputation.
Berger began his spring offensive in March 2006 with a fundraiser for Weldon’s opponent in the 2006 House race, Joe 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 Weldon’s district for 30 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 fired from the CIA after failing a polygraph on leaked classified information in regards to CIA prisons overseas. As it happened, a timely leak shortly before the 2006 election would ultimately do Weldon in.
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 Berger was in a position to orchestrate this offensive amazed just about anyone who had followed Berger’s recent career.
Just a year earlier, the nominally Republican Department of Justice issued a press release outlining an unusually lenient punishment for Berger in what had once seemed like a career-killing case.
“Berger concealed and removed a total of five copies of classified documents from the Archives,” read the release. “The documents were different versions of a single document.”
The press release continued, “Each of the five copies of the document was produced to the 9/11 Commission in due course.”
As proposed punishment, DOJ recommended a $10,000 fine and a three-year loss of security clearance for Berger, which would get him back in the ball game in time for a potential Clinton resurrection in 2008.
To put this in perspective, the NFL fined a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker $10,000 recently for a derogatory comment he made about a Cleveland Browns tight end.
The DOJ press conference floored Paul Brachfeld, the inspector general of the National Archives who had initiated the investigation. He was shocked at DOJ’s claim that the “investigation found no evidence of Berger trying to hide anything from the 9/11 Commission” or that “the Commission had access to all documents it requested.” He knew both claims to be conspicuously false.
Brachfeld, a careerist, had begun his work for the federal government during the Carter administration. The report prepared by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform details his relentless effort to put the Berger heist before the 9/11 Commission.
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, Brachfeld tried to alert the Justice Department to the scope and seriousness of the theft.
On Jan. 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 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.
It was not until July 19, 2004, that the 9/11 Commission learned of the Berger matter and then only through a leak to the press. This was just three days before the Commission released its final report, too late for any significant amendment.
At the time, of course, the Democrats blamed the Bush Justice Department for the leak. The Democratic blogs called the alleged scandal “Timingate,” as in “Desperate Bush Denies Link to Growing ‘Timingate’ Scandal,” an absurdity that the media more or less echoed.
In the real world, however, the timing allowed the Democrats to keep the Berger story away from the 9/11 Commission, lose it in the larger coverage of the Democrat convention, distance John Kerry from his now-tainted adviser before the campaign got rolling, and finally blame Bush for denying his alleged involvement in the leaking of the story.
Not surprisingly, there would be no media cry of “Timingate” when a pair of fatal leaks in October 2006 undid Weldon’s candidacy.
Brachfeld never did succeed in persuading 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 Department of Justice 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 only contributed to Democratic candidates in federal races.
The DOJ press release detailing Berger’s wrist-slap cites the fine work, among others, of the aforementioned Sklamberg. Having helped revive Berger’s career, Sklamberg has been handed an ironic new role in this ongoing charade, the prosecution of Berger’s nemesis, Curt Weldon himself.
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