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White House Study Found 473 Days of E-Mail Gone

Two advocacy groups suing the Bush administration over its e-mail policies, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive, also said yesterday that the White House's new statements are incomplete and contrary to earlier acknowledgments that some e-mails are missing.

CREW also asserted in court papers filed yesterday that "critical and highly relevant evidence may have been destroyed" by the White House.

The group's chief counsel, Anne Weismann, said the chart referenced in Waxman's letter corresponded to information from an informant who contacted the group and described nearly 500 days between 2003 and 2005 when no e-mails from several White House offices were archived.

Weismann said the source further described many more days during the same period when the volume of archived e-mail was unusually low. "The example I was given is that the average volumes per day in the White House office, for example, was 60,000 to 100,000, yet there were entire weeks when it was as low as five a day," she said.

Fratto said yesterday that "we tried to reconstruct some of the work . . . and could not replicate that or could not authenticate the correctness of the data in that chart." In an e-mailed response to questions, he also said the e-mails in question may exist on backup tapes that are separate from the archival system.

Theresa Payton, chief information officer in the White House Office of Administration, also said in her court affidavit that her office has "serious reservations about the reliability of the chart" and has "so far been unable to replicate its results or to affirm the correctness of the assumptions underlying it."

Payton also disclosed that e-mail backup tapes were routinely "recycled" during the first three years of the Bush administration. The White House stopped the practice in October 2003, when it "began preserving and storing all back-up tapes," Payton said.

Technology experts say recycled data is often impossible to recover, especially if the tapes have been written over repeatedly, raising the possibility that some e-mails could be gone forever.

The special counsel who oversaw the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, wrote in a letter to defense counsel in January 2006 that some e-mail in the offices of Bush and Cheney was not preserved through "the normal archiving process" in 2003.

When asked yesterday about a previous statement by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino that some White House e-mails are indeed missing, Fratto demurred. "I'm not sure what was said on that," he said. "I could tell you today, though, that we have no evidence and we have no way of showing that any e-mail at all are missing."

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