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Rove E-Mail Sought by Congress May Be Missing

E-mails from Rove and other White House officials potentially figure in a number of congressional investigations. Democrats are seeking the RNC e-mails as part of an effort to determine the extent of Rove's role in firing the U.S. attorneys and the alleged politicization at the General Services Administration.

The RNC yesterday turned over to the White House a copy of e-mail records for administration officials still on the RNC server to determine whether any of them are privileged or whether they can be provided to congressional investigators. Officials indicated that they would include post-2005 e-mails from Rove.

GOP officials said they are also trying to determine whether they can recover other e-mail that may have been deleted through regular purges of e-mails or by deliberate deletion by White House staff. Waxman said the RNC indicated that it had destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

In 2004, the RNC exempted White House officials from its policy of purging all e-mail after 30 days, so any lost e-mail after that date would have been presumably deleted by a White House official.

"We do not know what exists pre-2005 -- we are in the process of trying to determine what, if anything, does," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said. Another GOP official familiar with the inner workings of the RNC said officials have no evidence that Rove had deliberately deleted any e-mail. Kelner referred calls to the RNC, and the White House said Rove was not available to comment.

Republican officials also said there was nothing nefarious in their decision to take precautions to preserve Rove's e-mail. According to Waxman, Kelner told his staff that the RNC commenced a program in 2005 that took away Rove's ability to personally delete his e-mails. GOP officials said that was done only to preserve records for possible use in legal settings, not out of any concern that Rove would seek to scrub his e-mail account.

Erasing an e-mail message beyond hope of retrieval is not easy, experts said.

In general, deleting any file on a computer does not make it go away, because the computer normally will erase not the file but rather its own records of it. "The data is not gone until it is overwritten," said John Christopher, senior data-recovery engineer at Novato, Calif.-based DriveSavers. The "deleted" file will remain on the hard drive, where it can still be found and read until other data are saved to the same spot.

The same thing happens with e-mail: Trashing a message only means that the mail program clears its records of where it had filed that e-mail in its own database.

Paul Robichaux, a principal with the Redmond, Wash., technology services firm 3Sharp and the author of three books about Microsoft's e-mail software, compared it to a library that removes the entry for a book from its card catalogue: "The book is still on the shelf."

Staff writers Dan Eggen and Rob Pegoraro and washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.


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