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Watchdog groups agree: White House needs to turn over lost email records now
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday October 29, 2007
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A private watchdog group is asking the White House to show immediately that it has not destroyed archives of at least 5 million e-mails that were improperly deleted from internal servers. So far, the Bush administration has refused to provide such assurances.

A motion filed Friday by the National Security Archive seeks to compel the White House to hand over records that show it has maintained backup tapes of the deleted e-mails, as required by presidential record-keeping laws. A nearly identical case from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, another watchdog, seeks similar assurances that the Bush administration has not permanently erased the millions of e-mails exchanged among scores of White House aides.

"What we want is to find out what e-mails have been saved, and what e-mails are missing and how we can recover the e-mails that are missing from the backup tapes," Meridith Fuchs, general counsel for the Security Archive, told RAW STORY. "They have every interest in delaying, we have every interest in speeding it along."

As President Bush nears the end of his second term, the groups say it is vital that the White House demonstrate precisely what archives it has and be prevented from destroying any more records that will prove invaluable to historians studying how the administration operated.

"We need information so we can take steps to preserve all possible sources of e-mails deleted from the White House servers," Fuchs said in a news release.

So far, the White House has told the groups only that it is preserving any records it had in its possession as of September of this year, when the cases were filed. Justice Department lawyers, representing the administration, have argued against court orders that would open the possibility of contempt proceedings if the records were destroyed; the administration also has refused to document how long its archives go back.

A lawyer familiar with the proceedings told RAW STORY that the NSA and CREW proceedings are "totally on the same page," and are expected to be combined into a single court case.

A federal magistrate recommended that a federal judge order the White House to preserve all its e-mails, and the judge's recommendation could come as soon as this week, the lawyer said. Feuch's called the magistrate's recommendation "encouraging," but she said it wouldn't affect the archives' case unless or until the two are combined.

The lawsuits are not seeking the contents of White House e-mail exchanges, rather they demand that the White House Office of Administration provide general information about what was archived over what period of time.