Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mails from the administration of President George W. Bush and the Obama administration is searching for dozens more days’ worth of potentially lost e-mail from the Bush years, according to two groups that filed suit over the failure by the Bush White House to install an electronic record keeping system.
The two private groups — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive — said Monday they were settling the lawsuits they filed against the Executive Office of the President in 2007.
It will be years before the public sees any of the recovered e-mails because they will now go through the National Archives’ process for releasing presidential and agency records. Presidential records of the Bush administration won’t be available until 2014 at the earliest.
Former Bush White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the 22 million e-mails already had been recovered while Bush was still in office and that misleading statements about the former administration’s work demonstrate “a continued anti-Bush agenda, nearly a year after a new president was sworn in.”
“The liberal groups CREW and National Security Archive litigate for sport, distort the facts and have consistently tried to create a spooky conspiracy out of standard IT issues,” Stanzel said in a statement.
The 22 million e-mails “would never have been found but for our lawsuits and pressure from Capitol Hill,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW. “It was only then that they did this reanalysis and found as a result that there were 22 million e-mails that they were unable to account for before.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Bush administration had been dismissive of congressional requests that the administration recover the e-mails. Leahy said it was “another example of the Bush administration’s reflexive resistance to congressional oversight and the public’s right to know.”
The tally of missing e-mails, the additional searches and the settlement are the latest development in a political controversy that stemmed from the Bush White House’s failure to install a properly working electronic record keeping system. Two federal laws require the White House to preserve its records.
The two private organizations say there is not yet a final count on the extent of missing White House e-mail and there may never be a complete tally.
Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, said “many poor choices were made during the Bush administration and there was little concern about the availability of e-mail records despite the fact that they were contending with regular subpoenas for records and had a legal obligation to preserve their records.”
“We may never discover the full story of what happened here,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director. “It seems like they just didn’t want the e-mails preserved.”
Sloan said the latest count of misplaced e-mails “gives us confirmation that the Bush administration lied when they said no e-mails were missing.”
The two groups say the 22 million White House e-mails were previously mislabeled and effectively lost.
The government now can find and search 22 million more e-mails than it could in late 2005 and the settlement means that the Obama administration will restore 94 calendar days of e-mail from backup tape, said Kristen Lejnieks, an attorney representing the National Security Archive.
Stanzel, the former White House spokesman, said that the 94 days of e-mails to be recovered from back-up tapes consist of 61 calendar days already planned in the Bush era and an additional 33 days of recovery that the Obama White House have agreed to recover as part of the settlement of the court case.
Sheila Shadmand, another lawyer representing the National Security Archive, said the Obama administration is making a strong effort to clean up “the electronic data mess left behind by the prior administration.”
Records released as a result of the lawsuits reveal that the Bush White House was aware during the president’s first term in office that the e-mail system had serious archiving problems, which didn’t become publicly known until 2006, when federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald disclosed them during his criminal investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
A Microsoft Corp. document on the Bush White House’s e-mail problems states that Microsoft was called in to help find electronic messages in October 2003, more than two years before the problem surfaced publicly. October 2003 was the month that the Justice Department began gearing up its criminal investigation into who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of Plame, the wife of Bush administration war critic Joseph Wilson.