WASHINGTON – A federal judge Monday ordered the White House to preserve copies of all its e-mails, a move that Bush administration lawyers had argued strongly against.
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy directed the executive office of the president to safeguard the material in response to two lawsuits that seek to determine whether the White House has destroyed e-mails in violation of federal law.
In response, the White House said it has been taking steps to preserve copies of all e-mails and will continue to do so. The administration is seeking dismissal of the lawsuits brought by two private groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive.
The organizations allege the disappearance of 5 million White House e-mails. The court order issued by Kennedy, an appointee of President Clinton, is directed at maintaining backup tapes which contain copies of White House e-mails.
The Federal Records Act details strict standards prohibiting the destruction of government documents including electronic messages, unless first approved by the archivist of the United States.
Justice Department lawyers had urged the courts to accept a proposed White House declaration promising to preserve all backup tapes.
“The judge decided that wasn’t enough,” said Anne Weismann, an attorney for CREW.