Missing White House E-Mails – Incompetence or Deliberate Law-Breaking?

In a well-established pattern of the Bush presidency, the controversy over a missing 5 million to 10 million White House e-mails seems to be the result of either incompetence or a deliberate attempt to destroy potentially incriminating evidence. Sound familiar? You bet.

At the heart of the controversy is whether mixed in among those millions of messages were some regarding the exposure of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative.

‘We still do not know what was lost, why it was lost, and what steps we have to take to recover it — assuming it is still recoverable.’
– Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the National Security Archive

The White House has been typically reluctant to comply with requests for information about how it handles and stores what are in effect presidential records, which are required by law to be preserved. But if it was a cover-up and the tapes were destroyed, then criminal charges could be laid. However, if it was just incompetence — seems the White House was in the habit of reusing the record tapes, meaning that while not purposefully destroyed, the e-mails were taped over, effectively making it impossible to retrieve them.

Finally, Tuesday the White House complied with a magistrate’s order to do some ‘splaining:

In their lawsuits, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington suggest the e-mails were improperly deleted from White House computer servers. Over 5 million White House e-mails are missing, CREW alleged. Recently, the group said it has been told by reliable sources that the actual figure of missing e-mail is over 10 million.

Typically, the Bush administration takes the position that it is above the law:

In asking that the complaints be dismissed, the Bush administration says the president’s record keeping practices under the Presidential Records Act are not reviewable by the courts. Also, the Federal Records Act does not allow the far-reaching action the two private groups are demanding, the administration contends.


The administration’s response to the magistrate’s order was yet another classic case of Bush-league obfuscation:

“At this stage, this office does not know if any e-mails were not properly preserved in the archiving process,” said Theresa Payton, CIO of the Office of Administration in the Executive Office of the President. Her statement appeared in a declaration filed with the court in response to the Jan. 8 order.

“However, in view of this office’s practice in the 2003-2005 time period of regularly creating backup tapes for the EOP network, which includes servers containing e-mails, and in view of this office’s practice of preserving all such backup tapes from October 2003 to present, the backup tapes should contain substantially all the e-mails sent or received in the 2003-2005 time period.”

Well, we all agree that the tapes should contain the e-mails. Duh! So don’t look for a resolution to this issue any time soon.

Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the National Security Archive, said in a written statement that the White House’s explanation raises more questions. “The White House seems to be changing its story,” Fuchs wrote. “This declaration may mean that records about policy and decisions in the Executive Office of the President are not entirely lost, but in many respects, it raises more questions. We still do not know what was lost, why it was lost, and what steps we have to take to recover it — assuming it is still recoverable.

“While finding out some information from the White House has been a victory, I fear we have many battles ahead of us to preserve the documentary history of the government for eventual access,” she said.

3 Comments

  • Charley
    January 17, 2008 - 10:05 am | Permalink

    There could not be emails about exposing Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative. The woman was working openly for the CIA at the time. She was not “undercover” in any sense of the word. In addition, her husband – lying Joe – had already told everyone he could find that she worked there. Valerie Plame – underdcover agent – it must be a continuing joke among the dense.

    Sorry, Charley. It’s our policy not to allow lies by rightwingers to stand in the comments on this site. Director Michael Hayden of the CIA, a Republican, and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, also a Republican, both said that Valerie Plame was covert. She also said so under oath, and if your fellow rightwing America-hating travelers in the House of Representatives could have skewered her for this, they would have. If you feel a need to lie, try the Free Republic. Our readers are too smart to buy this garbage.

    – Editors

  • January 17, 2008 - 10:47 am | Permalink

    Its pretty clear from the Bush administration’s history this was no “accident”. It was deliberate and illegal.

    Some flunky did what he was told by the administration and ignored direct orders from his supervisors.

  • GarryInNola
    January 17, 2008 - 12:35 pm | Permalink

    >Charley
    Sounds like you must be getting most of your information from “sources” like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. You know, the “wingnuts of the Right”.

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