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White House study found e-mail gone

Waxman releases the report summary after a Bush spokesman says there's no proof that missives are missing.

January 18, 2008|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The White House possesses no archived e-mail messages for many of its component offices, including those of the president and vice president, for hundreds of days between 2003 and 2005, according to the summary of an internal White House study that was disclosed Thursday by a congressional Democrat.

The 2005 study -- the credibility of which was attacked by the White House this week -- identified 473 separate days in which no electronic messages were stored for one or more White House offices, said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).

Waxman said he decided to release the summary after White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Thursday that there was "no evidence" any White House e-mails from those years were missing. Fratto's assertion "seems to be an unsubstantiated statement that has no relation to the facts they have shared with us," Waxman said.

The competing claims were the latest salvos in an escalating dispute over whether the Bush administration has complied with long-standing statutory requirements to preserve official White House records -- including those reflecting potentially sensitive policy discussions -- for history and in case of any future legal demands.

Waxman said he is seeking testimony on the issue at a hearing next month by White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, National Archivist Allen Weinstein and Alan Swendiman, the politically appointed director of the Office of Administration, which produced the 2005 study at issue.

Another official in that office on Tuesday challenged the study's credibility in a court affidavit, contending that current White House employees have been unable to confirm the veracity of the analysis or to re-create its findings. Waxman's disclosure provides the first details about the study's findings.

The White House is required by law to preserve e-mails considered presidential or federal records, and is the target of several ongoing lawsuits seeking information about missing data and efforts made to preserve electronic communications.

The internal study found that for Bush's executive office, no e-mails were archived on 12 separate days between December 2003 and February 2004, Waxman said. Vice President Dick Cheney's office showed no electronic messages on 16 occasions from September 2003 to May 2005.

Archived e-mails were missing from even more days in other parts of the White House, the analysis found. The Council on Environmental Quality and the Council of Economic Advisers, for example, showed no stored e-mails for 2 1/2 months beginning in November 2003.

The administration has so far refused to release the study and documents related to it, including a large summary chart used in a closed-door briefing conducted for Waxman and other lawmakers last year.

Waxman described the findings in a letter to Fielding, which he released. "Mr. Fratto's statements have added to the considerable confusion that exists regarding the status of White House efforts to preserve e-mails," the letter said.

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