A federal court issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 12 to prevent the White House from destroying backup copies of millions of deleted e-mails that are at the center of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed the lawsuit March 29 against the Bush administration and the National Archives and Records Administration challenging their failure to restore and preserve millions of e-mails deleted from White House servers and to impose an effective electronic record-keeping system on the White House.
Covering more than two years, the missing e-mails came to light as part of congressional inquiries into the White Houses firing of U.S. attorneys. The White House admits the e-mails are missing and that it in 2002 abandoned the electronic records management system put in place by the Clinton administration. The e-mails were deleted between March 2003 and Oct. 25.
The Presidential Records Act requires that all White House e-mail be saved.
In granting CREWs request for a temporary restraining order, the court rejected the White Houses claim that it need not preserve all copies and that instead of an order, it should be permitted to file a declaration. A temporary restraining order was necessary, wrote Judge John Facciola, because without it, "Destruction of the backup media would be without consequence."
"Todays order is an important and necessary first step toward restoring and preserving for the public all the records of this administration, not just those self-selected for preservation by an administration committed more to secrecy than compliance with the law," Anne Weismann, CREWs Chief Counsel, said in a statement. "This is the first time a federal court has issued a temporary restraining order against the Bush administration."
The National Security Archive, an independent, nongovernmental organization based at George Washington University, has also sued the White House seeking the recovery and preservation of the missing e-mails. In addition, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is seeking additional information on the missing e-mails.
"The Bush White House broke the law and erased our history by deleting those e-mail messages," National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said in a Sept. 5 statement. "The period of the missing e-mails starts with the invasion of Iraq and runs through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."
In an April 16 briefing, White House press secretary Dana Perino said, "Im not taking issue with [CREWs] conclusions at this point. But I also will tell you that the technical folks that weve spoken to in the preliminary discussions [indicated] that if there had been an inadvertent human error or a technical problem … it wouldnt have been intentional and … there are ways that we can try to gather those [e-mails] if need be."
Perino also said, "I think there are backup tapes; there are different ways in order to go back and find e-mails."
The White House did not return calls for comment.