Judge may order White House to recover 'lost' e-mails
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday October 18, 2007

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UPDATE: Magistrate recommends White House be forced to hand over records

The White House may soon be forced to prove it is not trying to cheat history by destroying archives of untold numbers of internal e-mails, as a federal magistrate has supported a private watchdog's restraining order request.

On Friday, a federal magistrate recommended that a judge warn the White House that it could be held in contempt if it destorys archives records of e-mails that were deleted from White House servers, the Associated Press reported.

An ongoing lawsuit is seeking to confirm that White House e-mails that were lost from internal servers can and will be recovered from computer backup tapes. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says the administration has failed to prove that it is protecting the backups; although officials deny that any tapes were lost, the White House has refused to hand over records backing up that assertion.

U.S. Magistrate John M. Facciola has asked CREW and the Justice Department for suggestions on how to word a court order that would mandate White House compliance, the Associated Press reports.

''Unlike a court order, a declaration is not punishable by contempt,'' the magistrate wrote Friday. ''In other words, without such an order, destruction of the backup media would be without consequences.''

CREW filed a temporary restraining order earlier this month requesting the White House demonstrate it is preserving e-mails in compliance with the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act. CREW says the White House has only been able to prove it used backup tapes once, although a Justice Department attorney argued such a court order is unnecessary.

The White House Office of Administration, which oversees recordkeeping and archival, has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for information relating to potentially millions of e-mails that were deleted.

The restraining order stems from a lawsuit demanding the White House hand over records detailing what records were detleted from White House servers.

"The Office of Administration is not recycling backup tapes," Justice Department attorney Helen Hong told the judge, offering that the administration provide a sworn declaration of what it is preserving, according to AP.

Although the actual content of internal White House e-mails would not be subject to release for years, the archives will provide useful to future historians examining how the Bush administration really worked.