Executive Branch

Judge Tells White House: Disclose Missing E-Mail Backups

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A federal magistrate has given the White House a five-day deadline to disclose whether it has stored copies of at least 5 million missing e-mails on backup tapes.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola of Washington, D.C., issued the order (PDF posted by one of the plaintiffs) in consolidated lawsuits filed by the National Security Archive (PDF) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (PDF), reports the Associated Press and the Cox News Service blog The Secrecy File. The suits claim the Federal Records Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Freedom of Information Act require the e-mail to be preserved.

The e-mails, from March 2003 and October 2005, were apparently deleted, a White House spokesman has said. They could include information about the administration’s role in the firing of at least eight U.S. attorneys and other controversial issues.

Facciola’s order said that if the backup tapes do not exist, the archive would like to try to recover the e-mail from other sources, such as individual workstations. The effort would be time-sensitive since the e-mail is likely to be rewritten or deleted with the passage of time.

The administration contends the archive has no standing to pursue the suit, and the court has no jurisdiction to hear it, the order says.

Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, commented on the order in a statement.

“To date, the White House has evaded answering questions about whether it permanently destroyed over 5 million e-mails about issues such as Hurricane Katrina, the firing of United States Attorneys, and the exposure of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent,” she said. “This order will force the Executive Office of the President to tell the public whether it really erased key records of the nation’s history or whether it has made any effort to preserve the information.”

Updated 11:38 a.m. CST to include Associated Press article; at 12:03 p.m. to link to the The Secrecy File blog; and at 2:58 p.m. to indicate The Secrecy File’s affiliation with Cox News Service.

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