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White House lying

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From Dan Froomkin today:

Responding to reports that the White House may have destroyed millions of e-mails in violation of public records laws, White House spokesman Tony Fratto went before the press corps yesterday to say: What missing e-mails?

“We have no reason to believe that any e-mail at all are missing,” Fratto said.But Henry Waxman ain’t buying.

Last night, the persistent chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee let loose with a double-barreled blast of Congressional truth-squadding.

He disclosed that the White House told his committee investigators last fall that there were almost 500 days on which e-mails weren’t archived for certain White House offices. And he demanded an explanation:

“Mr. Fratto’s statements have added to the considerable confusion that exists regarding the status of White House efforts to preserve e-mails,” Waxman wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding. “To help clarify the situation, I request your testimony and the testimony of Alan Swendiman, the Director of the Office of Administration, at a hearing on February 15, 2008. . . . At the hearing, I ask that you be prepared to address the . . . following questions:”* Allegations that Executive Office of the President E-mails Were Lost between 2003 and 2005: When did the White House learn about any such losses, what are the extent of such losses, what steps has the White House taken to respond to any such losses, and who was responsible for ensuring the preservation of White House e-mails during this period?

“* Recycling of Back-up Tapes between 2001 and 2003: Who had responsibility for ensuring the preservation of e-mails between 2001 and 2003, who was responsible for the decision to recycle back-up tapes during this period, what was the basis of the decision to recycle back-up tapes, who was responsible for the decision to stop this practice in 2003, and why did this change in practice take place?

“* Electronic Records Preservation at the White House: Have concerns been raised about the adequacy of the e-mail preservation system, and what steps has the White House taken to ensure sufficient electronic records preservation and e-mail archiving?

“* Presidential Transition Planning: Who is responsible for preparing the White House to transition presidential records to the National Archives, what directives have been issued to White House staff regarding preservation of records and preparation for transition, what plans have been developed for the transition of both paper and electronic records, and what has the White House done to coordinate with the National Archives on transition planning?”

Here is Fratto at yesterday’s press briefing, which blogger Steve Benen described as a ” Who’s on First?” routine.

Fratto: “I think to the best of what all the analysis we’ve been able to do, we have absolutely no reason to believe that any emails are missing; there’s no evidence of that. There’s no — we tried to reconstruct some of the work that went into a chart that was entered into court records and could not replicate that or could not authenticate the correctness of the data in that chart. And from everything that we can tell, our analysis of our backup systems, we have no reason to believe that any email at all are missing.”

Q: “So where are they?”

Fratto: “Where are what? . . . We have no reason to believe that there’s any data missing at all — and we’ve certainly found no evidence of any data missing.”

Q: “So that would mean that if you were asked, you would be in a position to comply with a request to produce those documents?”

Fratto: “Yes, which documents?”

The Coverage

Dan Eggen and Elizabeth Williamson write in The Washington Post: “The White House possesses no archived e-mail messages for many of its component offices, including the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President, for hundreds of days between 2003 and 2005, according to the summary of an internal White House study that was disclosed yesterday by a congressional Democrat. . . .

“Waxman said he decided to release the summary after White House spokesman Tony Fratto said yesterday that there is “no evidence” that any White House e-mails from those years are missing. Fratto’s assertion ‘seems to be an unsubstantiated statement that has no relation to the facts they have shared with us,’ Waxman said. . . .

“Fratto said yesterday that ‘we tried to reconstruct some of the work . . . and could not replicate that or could not authenticate the correctness of the data in that chart.’ In an e-mailed response to questions, he also said the e-mails in question may exist on backup tapes that are separate from the archival system.”

But, as was widely reported yesterday (see yesterday’s column), those backup tapes were apparently recycled on a daily basis until October 2003. So missing e-mails from before that date may not be on the backups either.

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: “The White House’s latest statements represent a shift from what it was saying last spring when it seemed uncertain whether e-mail was missing from the archives or not. The latest statements also represent a shift from what the White House apparently told prosecutors over two years ago in the probe into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name.

“In January 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald reported that ‘we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.'”

As for what might have precipitated a change in tape retention policy in October 2003? A timeline compiled by blogger emptywheel may offer a hint: It was on Sept. 30, 2003 that then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales alerted White House staffers to retain documents related to the just-launched investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2008 at 10:38 am

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