Later On

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Hiding the dirty work

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Center for American Progress:

With less than a year remaining in President Bush’s term, the public is finally beginning to crack open the administration’s secrets. Last month, a federal judge ruled that a list of presidential visitors kept secret by the White House is actually a public record. On New Year’s Eve, Bush “bowed to lawmakers in his own party and signed a bill speeding the release of millions of government documents requested by Americans under the Freedom of Information Act.” More recently, a federal court order forced the White House to reveal its extensive destruction of presidential records. Officials acknowledged recycling backup computer tapes of e-mail before Oct. 2003, raising the possibility that these messages “are gone forever.” Perhaps not coincidentally, many of these days with missing e-mails correspond to important dates in the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal and decisions on the Iraq war.

‘WE SCREWED UP’: The Presidential Records Act requires that the president “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure” that the activities of the White House “are adequately documented.” Under the Clinton administration, the White House adopted a custom archiving system known as the Automated Records Management System (ARMS). But shortly after taking office, the Bush administration scrapped ARMS, claiming the system was “flawed.” Despite proposing two other records-management systems in 2003 and 2004, neither was ever adopted. The White House “would not comment on why ARMS was eliminated.” Not only was the White House recording over “computer backup tapes that provided a last line of defense for preserving e-mails” between 2001 and 2003, but Press Secretary Dana Perino has admitted that between 2003 and 2005, five million e-mails were potentially lost. “We screwed up, and we’re trying to fix it,” Perino told reporters in April.

A newly released White House study from 2005 reveals that “no e-mail was archived on 473 days for various units of the Executive Office of the President” (EOP). Ann Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Wasington, has also learned that on average, the e-mail volume for the EOP is 60,000 to 100,000 per day. Yet under the Bush administration, “there are days for which the total volume was ‘as low as five daily e-mails.'” More significantly, these missing e-mails have important information about both the CIA leak scandal and the Iraq war. For example, in presidential offices, “not a single e-mail was archived on Dec. 17, 20, or 21 in 2003 — the week after the capture of Saddam Hussein.” Additionally, e-mails “were not archived for Vice President Cheney’s office on four days in early October 2003, coinciding with the start of a Justice Department probe into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.” Also missing are e-mails from Cheney’s office on Sept. 20, 2003, the day on which then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered the President and Vice President’s staff to “preserve all materials that might be relevant” to a Justice Department probe on the Plame leak.

WHITE HOUSE DISSEMBLING: Last week, White House spokesman Tony Fratto inexplicably tried to claim that the White House has “absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing.” In response, House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing on these missing e-mails. In a letter requesting the testimony of White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman wrote that Fratto’s comments “added to the considerable confusion that exists regarding the status of White House efforts to preserve e-mails.” The White House has also disavowed the 2005 study showing the missing e-mails, claiming that it “came from outside the White House.” The report, however, was produced by Alan R. Swendiman, the politically appointed director of the Office of Administration.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2008 at 8:55 am

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