Groups announce settlement in missing Bush e-mails case
Updated 6:01 p.m.
By Dan Eggen
Two nonprofit groups announced Monday that they reached a legal settlement with the White House that may result in the release of a portion of the 22 million e-mails that went missing during the Bush administration because of poor labeling and other technical problems.
The National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) first sued the White House in 2007 alleging that millions of executive office e-mails had gone missing from March 2003 to October 2005 in violation of laws requiring their preservation.
The Bush White House, which initially denied that any e-mails had gone missing, announced in January it had located more than 22 million messages that had been mislabeled after a search by computer technicians, according to court records filed by the government on the day after Bush left office.
Even then, the two groups said, spotty electronic recordkeeping suggested that many more e-mails might still be missing, leading the groups to continue to press their case.
Earlier this year, contractors restored 61 days of e-mails -- an expensive process that involves resurrecting lost messages from backup tapes. In addition, the administration has promised to restore an additional 33 days of e-mail records as part of its agreement with the groups.
The selections include dates that are historically important, randomly chosen or flagged for unusually low e-mail activity. The Obama White House has created a new system for prospectively preserving electronic records that should prevent the problems that emerged during the Bush and Clinton years, the two groups said.
"This settlement means that the Obama administration is trying to clean up the mess that the Bush administration left behind," said Meredith Fuchs, counsel for the archives group, which champions open historical records. "They want to move on; they don't intend to have this kind of problem."
Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, said that documents show the Bush White House did not follow through on plans that would have helped solve its chronic e-mail archiving problems. "There are laws requiring these e-mails to be preserved, so people violated the law," Sloan said. "They figured out there was a problem but the policy people rejected a plan to retrieve them."
Norm Eisen, the administration's ethics counsel, said in a posting on the White House blog that President Obama "is firmly committed to ensuring that the records of this administration -- as well as those of all previous administrations -- are properly retained and preserved."
It's unclear how many e-mails will be released publicly, however. Any restored e-mails will become part of the Bush administration collection at the National Archives and Records Administration, and many are likely to be withheld for reasons of national security or because because they are considered presidential records not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, officials said.
Web Politics Editor
December 14, 2009; 5:34 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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