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White House E-mail, a National Security Archive documents reader

Chronology of events in the White House e-mail lawsuits

In the news

"Federal court hits Bush White House over e-mail"
By Pete Yost
Associated Press
January 15, 2009

"Court Orders Search of White House Computers"
By Michael Falcone
New York Times
January 14, 2009

"Missing White House E-Mails Traced, Justice Aide Says"
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post
January 15, 2009

"The Ongoing Saga Of Missing E-mails"
By Adam Hutton
CBS News
January 14, 2009

"Court orders White House to preserve e-mails"
By Bill Mears
January 14, 2009

"Judge hits White House with preservation order"
By Pete Yost
Associated Press
January 14, 2009

"White House office ordered to search for e-mail messages"
By Ben Bain
Federal Computer Week
January 14, 2009


Previous postings

January 15, 2009
White House e-mail in "true emergency conditions"

January 14, 2009
White House admits it has not recovered files from computer workstations or collected external computer storage media that may contain missing e-mails

November 10, 2008
Court Rejects White House on Missing E-mails

July 29, 2008
Magistrate Judge Affirms Recommendation that Court Order White House to Preserve E-mails on Workstations and Portable Media

May 6, 2008
White House Backups are Incomplete, May Not Contain Some Missing E-mails

April 24, 2008
Court Sets Deadline for White House Answers on Missing E-mail

April 17, 2008
Ruling on Preservation of White House E-Mails Awaited; New Law Proposed to Address Destruction of Electronic Records

March 18, 2008
Court orders White House to show cause why it should not create forensic copies of all electronic media

February 26, 2008
White House Ignored Repeated Warnings That E-mails Were at Risk

January 16, 2008
White House Admits No Back-Up Tapes for E-mail Before October 2003

January 8, 2008
White House Must Answer Questions About Missing White House E-mails, Magistrate Judge Rules

December 14, 2007
Archive Argues Against Government Attempt to Dismiss White House E-mail Lawsuit

November 13, 2007
Judge Orders Executive Office of the President to Preserve E-mail Back-Up Tape

October 29, 2007
Archive seeks to discover true extent of missing e-mails at White House

September 5, 2007
Archive Sues to Recover 5 Million Missing White House E-mails


Obama Justice Department Misses Opportunity for Transparency

Stays the Course in Defense of Archive Suit About Lost Bush White House E-mail

Archive Opposes Government Motion that Shows E-Mail Restoration Still Is Not Complete, Three Years After Independent Counsel Exposed Missing Cheney E-Mail

For more information contact:
Meredith Fuchs/Tom Blanton - 202/994-7000
Sheila L. Shadmand [Jones Day] - 202/879-3939

Washington, D.C., February 21, 2009 - The Justice Department this week missed the opportunity to bring transparency to the controversy over deleted White House e-mail from the Bush administration by allowing briefing to continue on a motion that had been developed by the Bush Administration. 

The motion, filed by the Justice Department on January 21, just after the inauguration, sought to dismiss the White House e-mail litigation even while admitting that a secretive restoration process was still not finished. Yesterday the Archive responded to that motion.

“We had hoped the new administration would give a hard look at whether to allow the defense of the Bush Administration’s loss of millions of White House e-mails to proceed on its current course,” commented Sheila Shadmand, a Jones Day partner and counsel for the Archive. “This second motion to dismiss is similar to the one the court already denied months ago – and it admits they have not even completed the restoration project they apparently have been conducting under wraps.”

The Archive’s Director, Tom Blanton, commented, “President Obama on Day One ordered the government to become more transparent, but the Justice Department apparently never got the message, and that same day tried to dismiss the very litigation that has brought some accountability to the White House e-mail system. Justice could have pulled back from that first misstep but they have not. The White House e-mail presents a high-level test of the new Obama openness policies, and so far, the grade is at best an incomplete.”

The independent counsel investigating the Valerie Plame/Scooter Libby case first exposed the problem of missing White House e-mail in a court filing in January 2006, citing whole days of zero archived e-mail from Vice President Cheney’s office. Bush White House statements initially admitted that as many as 5 million e-mails were missing, then subsequently denied any problem. The most recent briefing makes clear that a far larger number of emails were effectively lost because they were mislabeled or misallocated and required extensive technical work to be found, while still additional emails were completely missing from the EOP server.  
The National Security Archive filed its lawsuit on September 5, 2007 against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the National Archives (NARA), seeking to preserve and restore missing White House e-mails. A virtually identical lawsuit filed subsequently by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been consolidated with the Archive's lawsuit.  A chronology of the litigation is available here.

Yesterday, February 20, was the deadline for formal response from the plaintiffs to the government’s January 21, 2009 motion to dismiss. The January 21 government motion conceded that many days of e-mails written in 2003 through 2005 had been deleted from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) servers, that these deleted emails had to be restored from backup tapes, and that millions of emails had been mislabeled and miscategorized in the White House system, rendering them undetectable without a significant effort by the White House technology staff. The defendants, relying on the declaration of someone who has worked in the White House for only 4 months, claimed e-mails have been restored and the issue is now moot.

The Archive’s opposition filed yesterday disputes those claims pointing out:

  • The White House motion acknowledges that the restoration effort is not complete;
  • The White House inexplicably selected for restoration e-mails from only a portion of the days that they themselves acknowledge have deleted e-mails;
  • The White House did not conduct an analysis or restoration for the entire period during which emails are alleged to have been deleted;
  • The White House excluded key periods from their analysis and restoration effort allegedly because of the migration from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange;
  • The White House relied on a statistical analysis for its estimation of whether emails were missing that used as a starting point, the quantity of email on the very servers that the White House now acknowledges were incomplete; and
  • The White House has provided no evidence that any of the problems that led to the loss, mislabeling, and misallocation of emails have been corrected.

A chronology of the litigation is available here.

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