January 19, 2008 in Nation/World

White House may have erased e-mails

Pete Yost Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – Apparent gaps in White House e-mail archives coincide with dates in late 2003 and early 2004 when the administration was struggling to deal with the CIA leak investigation and the possibility of a congressional probe into Iraq intelligence failures.

The gaps – 473 days over a period of 20 months – are cited in a chart prepared by White House computer technicians and shared in September with the House Reform and Government Oversight Committee, which has been looking into reports of missing e-mail.

Among the times for which e-mail may not have been archived from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office are four days in early October 2003, just as a federal probe was beginning into the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity, an inquiry that eventually ensnared Cheney’s chief of staff.

Contents of the chart – which the White House now disputes – were disclosed Thursday by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House committee, as he announced plans for a Feb. 15 hearing.

Among the periods of time for which the chart indicates e-mail is missing is a five-day span starting Jan. 29, 2004, when the White House was dealing with the possibility of an election-year probe by Congress into Iraq intelligence failures.

Not archived by the office of the vice president is e-mail for Jan. 29-31, 2004, according to chart information released by Waxman. In addition, all e-mail from the White House Office in the Executive Office of the President was listed as missing for one of those days.

The chart indicates that e-mail also was not archived by the White House on the following Monday – Feb. 2, 2004 – the day President Bush took a big step in averting what could have been a politically troublesome congressional inquiry. He ordered an independent investigation into intelligence failures in Iraq.

The president conferred that day with former chief weapons inspector David Kay, declaring, “I want to know all the facts.”

The commission named by Bush reached a harsh verdict about the U.S. intelligence community’s performance, but the panel stopped short of addressing the White House’s use of the intelligence data to support the idea of war with Iraq.

The White House says computer backup tapes should contain all e-mails between 2003 and 2005. However, the White House recycled backup tapes until some time in October 2003, taping over existing data. That could mean some e-mail is gone forever if it is also missing from archives.

An example might be any missing e-mail from Cheney’s office in the early days of the CIA leak probe. The White House has not said when in October 2003 it halted the recycling of backup tapes.

E-mails in early October 2003 could reveal key discussions between White House personnel in the week after the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the leak of Plame’s CIA identity. The White House denied that Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby or top presidential adviser Karl Rove were involved in the leak, an assertion that turned out to be false.

“Can it be a mere coincidence that some of the missing e-mail correspond to a key period during the Valerie Plame investigation?” asked Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Given everything else we know, that is nearly impossible to believe.”

Her organization is one of two private advocacy groups suing the White House in the e-mail controversy.

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