'03 White House E-Mails Not Found

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Bush administration has not found disaster recovery files for White House e-mails from a three-month time period in 2003, according to court documents filed this week, raising the possibility that messages sent before and after the invasion of Iraq may never be recovered.

The White House chief information officer, Theresa Payton, said in a sworn declaration that the White House has identified more than 400 computer backup tapes from March through September of 2003 but that the earliest recorded file was dated May 23 of that year.

That period was one of the most crucial of the Bush presidency. The United States launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, and President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1.

Payton and other officials said that older e-mails could still be contained on the tapes because of the way the files are dated.

The administration also said it is still searching computer archives for e-mails that have been filed in the wrong "digital drawer." In addition, Payton and other officials have said that any e-mails missing from the White House archiving system might still be available on disaster recovery tapes.

But that did not satisfy an advocacy group suing the administration for e-mail records.

"We're talking about the White House, and documentation of our history that may be lost," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Administration officials had acknowledged last year that thousands of e-mails might be missing from White House servers, but the administration has shifted course in recent months to arguing there is still no clear evidence of a problem. A White House spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Two federal statutes require presidential communications, including e-mails involving senior White House aides, to be preserved for the nation's historical record. The White House's electronic archiving system has come under scrutiny from Democrats who allege that nearly 500 days' worth of White House e-mails from 2003 to 2005 may be missing.

CREW has joined the National Security Archive, a private advocacy group, is suing the Executive Office of the President in an attempt to preserve the e-mail records.

The administration said in a brief, filed Monday with U.S. Magistrate John M. Facciola of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that a court proposal to search and preserve all e-mail records on the White House network would "yield marginal benefits at best, while imposing substantial burdens and disruptions" on the government.

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