Also published at my webmagazine, The Public Record.
The Bush administration may have already hired an outside contractor to search individual computers for tens of thousands of missing e-mails that disappeared between 2003 and 2005.
But information technology experts conducting the search apparently have been told not to try and locate hundreds of thousands of missing e-mails from March 2003 to September 2003, a crucial time-frame that encompasses the start of the Iraq war, and the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
The government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of two organizations that sued the White House last year in hopes of forcing the administration to preserve its e-mails and recover e-mails lost between 2003 and 2005, disclosed the new details in a court filing last week.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel of CREW, said in an interview Tuesday that she learned through her own sources that the White House completed the second phase of a restoration project to recover lost e-mails.
“CREW has learned that the White House has now completed its analysis of the missing email problem and confirmed that email is missing for as many as 225 days,” says a statement posted on CREW’s website Weismann confirmed. “In addition, the White House is about to begin selecting, or has already selected, a contractor to restore the missing email, although it is CREW's understanding that the White House does not intend to use backup tapes predating October 2003.
“It has already been established that e-mails for the Office of the Vice President are missing for a critical week in September 2003, when the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's convert CIA identity. Despite the obvious relevance of these new facts to the lawsuit, the White House has refused CREW's request that is advise the Court of these events and bring transparency to the process.”
Senior administration officials disclosed Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to several journalists in early summer 2003, leading to its publication in a July 14, 2003, article by right-wing columnist Robert Novak.
However, it was not until September 2003 that a CIA complaint to the Justice Department sparked a criminal investigation into the identity of the leakers.
The email controversy first surfaced in January 2006 when Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the leak Plame Wilson leak, said in a court filing following the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis Scooter Libby that he "learned that not all email of the Office of the 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."
In October of 2005, the Office of Administration discovered that White House e-mails had not been archived in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. The Office of Administration had briefed former White House Counsel Harriet Miers about the lost e-mails. It’s documents and email correspondence related to these behind-the-scenes discussions that CREW was hoping to obtain with a FOIA request.
Miers is said to have immediately informed Fitzgerald about the issue. Fitzgerald had been investigating White House officials’ role in the Plame leak and subpoenaed White House e-mails sent in 2003. Fitzgerald stated in a 2006 court filing that some e-mails in the Office of the President and Vice President had not been turned over to federal investigators working on the leak probe.
An internal investigation by officials in the Office of Administration concluded that e-mails from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney between Sept. 30, 2003, and Oct. 6, 2003 were lost and unrecoverable.
That was the week when the Justice Department launched an investigation into the Plame leak and set a deadline for Bush administration officials to turn over documents and e-mails containing any reference to Plame Wilson or her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Additionally, Office of Administration staffers said there were at least 400 other days between March 2003 and October 2005 when e-mails could not be located in either Cheney’s office or the Executive Office of the President.
Weisman said Tuesday that CREW is seeking a status conference to “address the new facts of the case.”