Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush administration admits massive coverup of e-mail record


Scope of missing e-mails acknowledged in court today, although Department of Justice claims they are working on a solution

January 14, 2009, 6:00 pm, Washington, D.C. – At a hearing today concerning the risks posed by the presidential transition to the recovery of millions of missing e-mails from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) in the National Security Archive's lawsuit seeking restoration of those e-mails, the White House acknowledged that it has done little to recover e-mail files from computer workstations and nothing to collect external media storage devices that could hold e-mails.  These admissions came despite the issuance of a report and recommendation in April 2008 by a federal magistrate judge calling for the White House to locate and preserve data from the workstations and external media storage devices.  Earlier today the court issued an order requiring steps to be taken to secure files from individual computer workstations, memory sticks, zip drives, DVDs and CDs.

"The White House admitted it did nothing to stop people working in the White House from disposing of memory sticks, CDs, DVDs and zip drives that may have been the sole copies of missing e-mails on them," stated Sheila Shadmand from Jones Day, counsel for the Archive.  Ms. Shadmand warned: "We believe our ability to get a complete restoration of the White House record from 2003 to 2005 and evidence of what went wrong has been compromised."

The Archive's Director, Tom Blanton noted: "If this kind of irresponsible conduct can take place despite the Executive Office of the President's obligations under the Federal Records Act and this lawsuit, then perhaps the country needs more oversight of record-keeping in the White House."

"The court made clear today that any additional work that the White House has to do before its occupants depart is its own fault," said Meredith Fuchs, the Archive's General Counsel.  "As the magistrate judge implied, they rolled the dice hoping they would get this case thrown out of court and they lost.  Now they have to make up for lost time."

Despite prior contradictory statements about whether any White house e-mails had been lost, the government's lawyers also admitted they have now located at least 14 million missing emails and that a major restoration project has been commenced to recover additional missing e-mails from backup tapes. 

At today's hearing, the Archive and CREW applauded the order issued earlier today by Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. and requested:

  • An inventory documenting the collection of external media devices;
  • An inventory of backup tapes preserved pursuant to this lawsuit;
  • The naming of a document custodian at the National Archives and Records Administration to ensure the records are properly secured;
  • Assembly of an administrative record reflecting the agencies actions; and
  • Assurances from the White House that the entire Executive Office of the President will comply with the extended preservation order

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