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Where Are the E-mails?

"This information may also reveal the extent to which any of the defendants has already destroyed any back-up copies of the deleted email records or transferred them out of the OA's possession, custody or control. Separate and apart from the illegality of any such action, it is critical to ascertain what back-up copies may have been destroyed to determine what additional steps can and should be taken to replicate those copies before the end of President Bush's term in office. These other copies, however, whether in hard drives or other repositories, are only accessible for the duration of President Bush's term, after which they will be cleaned out for the incoming president. Accordingly, it is critical to pinpoint what back-up copies are presently available and what back-up copies have been destroyed to explore, in the short time that remains, alternative methods of restoring the millions of deleted email records. . . .

"Under this administration's watch, millions of email have gone missing and the White House has done nothing to reconstruct those historically important federal records or take steps to prevent further document destruction. When confronted with requests for information about the missing email problem, the White House has unilaterally removed itself from the public arena altogether by declaring that the OA is no longer an agency subject to government sunshine laws. In the short life of this lawsuit the White House defendants have refused to give adequate assurances of document preservation, refused to provide basic information and refused to meet with plaintiff's counsel to plan for discovery."

Here's more background from the National Security Archive and the original CREW report from April about the missing e-mails.

Oversight Watch

On August 30, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman wrote a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding demanding some answers from the White House.

"On May 29,2007, Keith Roberts, the Deputy General Counsel of the White House Office of Administration, and Emmet Flood, Special Counsel to the President, briefed Committee staff on the White House e-mail system and the missing e-mails," Waxman wrote. "At the briefing, Mr. Roberts informed Committee staff that the White House had discovered in 2005 that an unknown number of e-mails may not have been preserved in the White House archive, as required by the Presidential Records Act. According to Mr. Roberts, the Office of the Chief Information Officer then conducted a review of the e-mail system to determine the scope of the potential loss. He said that this review apparently found some days with a very small number of preserved e-mails and some days with no e-mails preserved at all. He also stated that a report summarizing these findings had been presented to the White House Counsel's office.

"In addition, Mr. Roberts informed the Committee that an unidentified company working for the Information Assurance Directorate of the Office of the Chief Information Officer was responsible for daily audits of the e-mail system and the e-mail archiving process. Mr. Roberts was not able to explain why the daily audits conducted by this contractor failed to detect the problems in the archive system when they first began.

"At the conclusion of the briefing, Committee staff requested a copy of the analysis presented to White House Counsel and the identity of the contractor responsible for daily audits and archiving. Mr. Flood told Committee staff that he would take the two requests under consideration. Since then, Committee staff have repeatedly requested that the White House provide this information without success. Given that three months have passed since your office first received this request, I am writing to ask that you provide the information to the Committee by September 10, 2007."

But earlier this month Damon Poeter wrote for an online marketing trade publication, ChannelWeb Network: "When Congress asked about 5 million executive branch e-mails that went missing, a White House lawyer pointed the finger at an outside IT contractor.

"The only problem? No such IT contractor exists, according to sources close to the investigation of a possible violation of the Federal Records and Presidential Records acts."

As for Waxman's Sept. 10 deadline, Poeter wrote that it had "come and gone with no response from the Bush administration on Waxman's request."

Scandal Convergence

And how did the public find out about the e-mails deleted off the White House servers? From CIA leak special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. In January 2006, after his indictment of vice presidential aide Scooter Libby for obstruction of justice and perjury, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Libby's lawyer that understatedly noted that "we advise you 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."

Not the Same E-Mails

A lot of people seem confused about this, so it's worth pointing out that there are two entirely different sets of missing e-mails: These and the ones that top White House aides including Karl Rove intentionally sent and received using their Republican National Committee e-mail accounts even while knowing full well that circumventing the White House servers for official business was a violation of federal law.


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