Also published at my new investigative news magazine The Public Record
Earlier this week, the White House disclosed that it could not recover lost e-mails from emergency backup tapes for the period covering the invasion of Iraq and the U.S. failure to find Iraq’s alleged WMD.
This new gap – from March 1, 2003, to May 23, 2003 – also may have wiped out evidence of how George W. Bush and his top aides reacted to the emerging criticism from former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson that the White House had sold the war using false claims about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger in Africa, an investigation by The Public Record http://www.pubrecord.org has found.
“It seems clear now that the e-mail backups are spotty and that there is no guarantee that there are backup tapes for all of [Executive Office of the President] during the period of concern, March 2003-October 2005,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, one of two organizations suing the White House in hopes of forcing the administration to preserve its e-mails.
In a federal court filing this week, the White House confirmed the failure to recover lost e-mails from the emergency backup tapes.
White House Chief Information Officer Teresa Payton and press secretary Dana Perino have blamed the loss of the e-mails on the administration’s transition from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook.
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. At first, however, the probe was under the control of Attorney General John Ashcroft and did not appear likely to lead to a major scandal.
The White House responded to press inquiries disingenuously, claiming Bush took the leak very seriously and would punish anyone involved.
“The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration,” press secretary Scott McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”
Bush personally announced his determination to get to the bottom of the matter.
Hiding the White House Role
Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Vice President Dick Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters to undermine Wilson’s criticism.