House Sets Hearing on Missing White House E-mail

A California lawmaker claims the White House is missing 473 days of archived e-mail. 

Angered by apparent contradictory statements by the White House, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a Feb. 15 hearing over millions of missing White House e-mails.

The missing e-mails were first revealed during a congressional investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys general. While acknowledging the e-mails are missing, the White House initially contended that they are stored on backup tapes.

However, in a Jan. 15 sworn deposition, Theresa Payton, CIO for the Office of Administration, said the White House recycled computer backup tapes containing some of the missing e-mails from the beginning of the Bush administration until 2003. "At this stage, this office does not know if any e-mails were not properly preserved in the archiving process," Payton said in her deposition.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto followed up Payton's deposition at a Jan. 16 press conference by saying, "We have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing."

Waxman, though, said the White House staff admitted at a September 2007 private meeting with Waxman's staff that there are 473 days for which various White House offices have no archived e-mail. Moreover, according to Waxman's office, the missing e-mails extend through 2005.

Waxman said Jan. 17 the White House detailed the information in a chart, which the White House staff took with them after the September meeting with Waxman's staff. He also said the White House has been unresponsive to requests for follow up information sought by the committee.

"Mr. Fratto's statements have added to the considerable confusion that exists regarding the status of White House efforts to preserve e-mails," Waxman said in a Jan. 17 letter to Fred F. Fielding, counsel to the White House.

The period of missing e-mails covers the start of the Iraq war to the time when a White House official publicly identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative and on through the administration's initial response to Hurricane Katrina.

In 2002, the White House abandoned the electronic records management system put in place by the Clinton administration. The Presidential Records Act requires that all White House e-mail be saved.

The National Security Archive, an independent, nongovernmental research institute and library located at George Washington University, and CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have been pressuring the White House for public disclosure of the e-mails.

CREW originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Office of Administration on March 29, 2007, regarding records of the missing e-mails. When the office refused to turn over the information, CREW sued the White House May 23 for the information. The organization also released a report on the missing e-mails based on information obtained from two confidential sources.

Following up on CREW's information, the National Security Archive also sued the White House on Sept. 5. The National Security Archive and CREW have subsequently consolidated their legal actions against the White House to force disclosure of the missing e-mails.