‘An internal White House report noted in 2005 that e-mails appeared to be missing from specific periods, including key moments related to the invasion of Iraq and to a federal probe of the leak of Valerie Plame’s employment by the CIA.’
R. Jeffrey Smith / January 14, 2009
With Bush administration White House aides on their way out the door in coming days, a federal judge this morning ordered the president’s executive office to undertake a comprehensive search for millions of senior appointees’ e-mails that have been inaccessible and possibly missing since 2005.
The order reflects a continuing effort by outside groups to ensure that the White House transfers historically significant materials to the National Archives on or before next Tuesday, as required by federal law. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. demanded that officials search computer workstations, preserve thumb drives and examine e-mail archives created or retained by White House employees from 2003 to 2005, the period in which a records gap exists.
The Justice Department had argued the order was unnecessary because efforts are underway to retrieve any missing e-mails from tapes that periodically copied everything on White House computer servers as a precaution against an electronic disaster. But the two plaintiffs, a historical research group called the National Security Archive and a nonprofit organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have complained that the White House has not disclosed the status of those efforts.
The dispute was provoked by the disclosure three years ago that the White House, in switching to a new internal e-mail system shortly after Bush’s election, abandoned an automatic archiving system meant to preserve all messages containing official business. Under the new system, any of the 3,000 or so regular White House employees could access e-mail storage files, enabling them to delete messages after they had been created.
An internal White House report noted in 2005 that e-mails appeared to be missing from specific periods, including key moments related to the invasion of Iraq and to a federal probe of the leak of Valerie Plame’s employment by the CIA. But White House officials have since said that some of the e-mails from those periods have been retrieved.
Gary Stern, general counsel of the National Archives and Records Administration, said last month that “we hope and expect” that all the e-mails can be recovered soon, but said he was unsure whether they would be.
“We are reviewing the court’s order and will comply with the law,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. “We have made great progress in the accounting of e-mail messages.”
A court hearing on the issue is scheduled for later today.
Source / Washington Post / truthout