Key White House records in Plame probe disappear


    Key White House email records in the investigation of the leak of a covert CIA operative’s name to the press are missing.

    Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. the special prosecutor
    in the criminal case against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief
    of staff said in a Jan. 23 letter that not all e-mail was archived in
    2003, the year the Bush administration exposed the identity of
    undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.

    Lawyers for defendant I.
    Lewis “Scooter” Libby this week accused prosecutors of withholding
    evidence the Libby camp says it needs to mount a defense.

    “We are
    aware of no evidence pertinent to the charges against defendant Libby
    which has been destroyed,” Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to the defense
    team.

    But the prosecutor added: “In an abundance of caution, we
    advise you 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.” His letter was an exhibit attached
    to Libby’s demand for more information from the prosecution.

    Lea
    Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, said the vice president’s
    office is cooperating fully with the investigation, and referred
    questions to Fitzgerald’s office.

    Libby is charged with five
    counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI regarding how he
    learned of Plame’s identity and what he did with the information.

    The
    Presidential Records Act, passed by Congress in 1978, made it clear
    that records generated in the conduct of official duties did not belong
    to the president or vice president, but were the property of the
    government.

    The National Archives takes custody of the records when the president leaves office.

    “Bottom
    line: Accidents happen and there could be a benign explanation, but
    this is highly irregular and invites suspicion,” said Steve Aftergood,
    director of the Federation of American Scientists government secrecy
    project.

    “A particular subset of records sought in a
    controversial prosecution have gone missing,” Aftergood said. “I think
    what is needed is for the national archivist to ascertain what went
    wrong and how to ensure it won’t happen again.”