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Waxman, Mukasey and Ten Million Missing Emails

Waxman, Mukasey and Ten Million Missing Emails

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

A government watchdog group now says at least ten million White House emails, which may contain information about the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA status, have been destroyed by the Bush administration.

In a report from April, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) detailed a massive hole in the White House email records. The report, titled "Without a Trace: The Missing White House Emails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act," accused the Bush administration of destroying "more than 5 million" emails and failing to attempt to recover them.

According to CREW, their sources now tell them the number of missing emails is at least ten million.

Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel said the revised estimate "highlights that this is a very serious and systematic problem at the White House." Currently CREW, along with The National Security Archives are suing the Bush administration in an attempt to force the administration to restore the missing documents from backup tapes.

The missing email were discovered in the fall of 2005 when staff at the White House Office of Administration were attempting to respond to a subpoena from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald for any White House records relating to the leak of Plame Wilson's identity.

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The CREW report includes a letter from Fitzgerald that shows his investigation was hampered by problems with the White House email archiving system. "... we have learned that not all email of the office of the 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," Fitzgerald wrote in his letter to I. Lewis Libby's attorneys.

The report detailed two separate possible violations of the Presidential Records Act (PRA), a law passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal that requires the preservation of all presidential documents for the historical record. The first violation was the use of unofficial email accounts by White House staff to conduct official business. This revelation made headlines during the US attorney firings investigation, which remains ongoing.

The second potential violation, which received little media coverage, was the destruction of internal emails at the White House. According to CREW, two independent White House insiders have confirmed a massive systematic failure occurred that wiped out "hundreds of days" of email records between March 2003 and October 2005.

When the report was first issued in April, White House spokesperson Dana Perino was asked specifically about the millions of missing emails. She stated there was a system in place that archived emails sent to and from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) that complied with the PRA. She suggested any email that had been deleted would be available on backup tapes that serve as a second level of defense by storing data in case of any failure.

However, according to the CREW report, the archiving system the White House used has been inadequate and a plan to restore the destroyed records was never acted upon.

During the press conference, Perino said she was not "taking issue with [CREW's] conclusions at this point. We're checking into them."

According to an August letter from Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California) to White House counsel Fred Fielding, White House staff informed the Committee "an unknown number" of White House emails were unaccounted for. The White House apparently confirmed there were days where no White House email had been preserved.

The emails in question come directly from EOP, and could include communications between the president, vice president and their high-level staff. These missing emails take on new significance as Waxman continues to pursue investigative documents collected during special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak of Plame Wilson's CIA status and the subsequent cover-up by top Bush administration officials.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the main investigative committee in the House of Representatives, Waxman has been battling the White House for documents relating to the many ongoing investigations his committee is conducting. He has accused the Bush administration of stonewalling because of their resistance to turn over documents.

It is clear Waxman is hot on the trail of documents that could explain who was involved in the leak of Plame Wilson's identity. In a letter to Fitzgerald, Waxman specifically requested "Documents describing the transmission of information about Plame Wilson's CIA employment status to or from any official at the White House, Office of the Vice President, Central Intelligence Agency, or State Department ... "

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Waxman said the White House has been preventing Fitzgerald from turning documents over to Congress, specifically "documents relating to White House officials."

According to Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientist's Project on Government Secrecy, this type of "stonewalling" has been "characteristic of the Bush Administration" and has been "effective in inhibiting Congressional oversight." Aftergood pointed out this letter from Waxman to Attorney General Michael Mukasey is the first such challenge of its kind for the recently confirmed AG. Aftergood said the letter is "a test of [Mukasey's] attitude towards disclosure and towards Congress."


Matt Renner is an assistant editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.

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