Email missing from Cheney's office on day White House told to preserve documents in CIA leak
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday January 21, 2008 |
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New report shows archives gone on several key days in Plame investigation

Among the sixteen days for which email are missing from Vice President Cheney's office is Sept. 30, 2003, the same day the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced they were investigating who outed former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.

That morning, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered the president and the vice president's staff to "preserve all materials that might be relevant" to an inchoate Justice Department probe.

"We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee," Gonzales wrote in a terse Sep. 30, 2003 email. "The Department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the Department's investigation."

The analysis was released over the weekend by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based ethics watchdog.

The White House said in a court filing last week that backup tapes, which contained archived copies of the e-mails, were recycled as part of a policy the White House had in place until October 2003.

Special Prosecutor and Chicago US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald convicted Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of obstructing justice and lying to investigators last year. Fitzgerald noted in a January 2006 letter that some of the White House's emails had not been archived.

Emails gone on day Bush said he'd 'take care of' leaker

Ironically, Cheney's office is missing emails from the very day President Bush told reporters he'd "take care of" whatever staff member had actually leaked the CIA agent's name.

"If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush said Sept. 30, 2003. "And if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of."

The day before, then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan had said there was "nothing, absolutely nothing" to suggest any White House involvement.

"And that includes the vice president's office, as well," McClellan added.

Much remains to be learned about what happened to White House e-mails on 473 days for which they seem to have disappeared. A lawsuit brought by CREW and the National Security Archive and planned hearings from the House Oversight Committee are trying to find out just how much of the historical record of the Bush administration ended up in the White House recycling bin.

Cheney's office also is missing e-mails from Oct. 4, 2003, when the Justice Department demanded that the White House turn over "all documents that relate in any way" to the leak of Plame's identity. E-mails are also missing for the following day, during which the probe intensified and CIA director George Tenet found himself at the center of it, "caught between his loyalty to the president and defending an agency enraged" at Plame's exposure, according to the New York Times.

As Fitzgerald's probe continued over the next few years, emails continued to disappear, CREW says. More e-mails were missing from Cheney's office on Feb. 16, 2005, when a court ordered reporters who had discussed Plame's identity with administration officials to testify about those conversations.

All in all, some 473 days of emails are missing from various Administration departments, according to a House Democrat who saw a White House presentation on the files.