View Full Version : Millions Of White House E-Mails "May Be Lost"

01-17-2008, 09:47 AM
White House e-mails 'may be lost'
The White House has acknowledged it recycled back-up tapes of e-mails sent over eight months of 2003, which may mean millions have been lost forever.



The taped-over e-mails could include messages discussing the Iraq war and leaking of a CIA officer's identity.

The White House disclosure was forced by a lawsuit brought by private groups.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said there was "no basis to say that the White House has destroyed any evidence or engaged in any misconduct".

If the e-mails were not saved, the White House may have violated laws which require the preservation of documents that make up part of presidential and federal records.

The possibility that some of the lost e-mails may have dealt with the leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003 has fuelled interest in the case.

The leak resulted in her resignation from the CIA and, three years later, the conviction of top White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.

'Significant' time period
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew), one of two groups bringing the lawsuit against the White House, says the problem stems from its decision to dismantle its electronic record-keeping system from March 2003 at the same time as recycling back-up tapes of deleted emails, a process which continued until the end of October 2003.

Crew claims that up to 10 million e-mails may have been lost between 2003 and 2005.

"The significance of this time period cannot be overstated: the US went to war with Iraq, top White House officials leaked the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into their actions," Crew said in a statement.

The group has questioned the White House's apparent failure to explain how the problem arose or to determine how many e-mails may have been permanently lost.

'Best practice'
In a sworn court statement, Theresa Payton, chief information officer for the White House Office of Administration, said the White House "does not know if any e-mails were not properly preserved in the archiving process".

She said e-mails sent between October 2003 and 2005 should be contained on back-up tapes which had been preserved and stored.

Previously they had been recycled in a manner "consistent with industry best practices".

In December, Henry Waxman, Democratic chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the House of Representatives, expressed concerns about the Bush White House's preservation of electronic records.

After the second term of President George W Bush comes to an end in January 2009, the White House will be obliged to turn over all its presidential records to the National Archives.

01-18-2008, 03:10 PM
Congressman calls hearing after White House admits 473 days of email 'missing'
Sixteen days of email missing from Cheney's office


Published: Friday January 18, 2008

A White House chart shown to Congress indicates no e-mail was archived on 473 days for various units of the Executive Office of the President, a House committee chairman says.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., says a White House spokesman's comments suggesting no e-mail had disappeared conflicted with what congressional staffers were told in September. He also said the White House has refused to make the chart public.

On Thursday night, Waxman said he was scheduling a hearing for Feb. 15 and challenged the White House to explain spokesman Tony Fratto's remark that "we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing."

Fratto based his comment on the contents of a White House declaration filed in federal court casting doubt on the accuracy of a chart created by a former White House employee that points to a large volume of e-mail gone from White House servers.

The brief description of the chart in the sworn declaration appears to match Waxman's description of what White House officials showed his staff at a Sept. 19 briefing.

There are 16 days of no archived e-mails from Sept. 12, 2003, to May 23, 2005, for the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, according to Waxman's letter announcing the hearing. There are a dozen days of no archived e-mails for the White House Office inside the EOP, starting Dec. 17, 2003, and ending on Feb. 8, 2004, Waxman's letter added.

"Archived e-mails were missing from even more days in other parts of the White House, the analysis found," according to the Washington Post. "The Council on Environmental Quality and the Council of Economic Advisers, for example, showed no stored e-mails for 2 1/2 months beginning in November 2003. The Office of Management and Budget showed no messages for 59 days -- including the period from Nov. 1, 2003, to Dec. 9, 2003 -- and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative showed no e-mail for 73 days."

"The administration has so far refused to release the study and a number of documents related to it, including a large summary chart used in a closed-door briefing conducted for Waxman and other lawmakers last September by Emmet T. Flood, special counsel to the president," the Post added.

The briefers took the chart with them when they left, Waxman said, but committee staffers had copied many of the details.

Waxman said the White House officials took the chart on which the information is based with them, while indicating the White House was doing an additional analysis to determine whether the information in the chart was accurate.

Asked to testify are White House Counsel Fred Fielding; Alan Swendiman, director of the White House Office of Administration, and Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States.

Waxman called the hearing after Fratto tried to tamp down the growing e-mail controversy.

Fratto's comments shifted away from White House statements last spring that expressed uncertainty over whether the allegations were true or not.

"We tried to reconstruct some of the work" in the chart and "could not authenticate the correctness of the data," said Fratto. "We have no evidence and we have no way of showing that any e-mail at all are missing."

The existence of the chart surfaced Tuesday night in the White House declaration filed in lawsuits brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the private National Security Archive.

The declaration, which the White House was forced to file pursuant to court order, disclosed that before October 2003, the White House recycled computer backup tapes containing e-mail. Such a process would overwrite large numbers of e-mails. The White House said it began preserving backup tapes in October 2003, but recycled them before then.

If the chart of e-mail missing from archives turns out to be accurate, the backup tapes should contain substantially all e-mails sent or received in the 2003-2005 time period, the White House court declaration said.

"We have no reason to believe that there is any data missing at all" from White House computer servers, said Fratto. "And we've certainly found no evidence of any data missing."

The court declaration said the White House was undertaking an independent assessment of a chart to determine whether any e-mail is missing.

The White House's latest statements represent a shift from what it was saying last spring when it seemed uncertain whether e-mail was missing from the archives or not. The latest statements also represent a shift from what the White House apparently told prosecutors over two years ago in the probe into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name.

In January 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald reported that "we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."

The White House says the e-mail matter arose in October 2005 in connection with the Justice Department's CIA leak probe. Fitzgerald revealed it to the public three months later in preparations for the trial of Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was later convicted of four felonies in the Plame affair. President Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison term.