Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's White House secretary, only managed to hide eighteen and a half minutes of her boss's secretly tape-recorded conversations. The National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit, says that the Bush White House deleted at least 5 million email records it should have kept. The Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have filed lawsuits that aim to recover the missing emails. (See Dan Schulman's piece on "The Emails the White House Doesn't Want You to See.")
Might this mass of data be a treasure trove of the administration's dark secrets? No one will know unless these lawsuits uncover the missing emails. On Friday, the Archive filed a motion requesting expedited discovery against the Executive Office of the President to determine what emails are missing from the White House email system and backup tapes. In a press release put out today, Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs says, "The pressing need for the information arises out of troubling representations by the EOP and its components about its document preservation obligations and the location of its backup tapes. We need information so we can take steps to preserve all possible sources of e-mails deleted from the White House servers."
Here's how the Archive recaps the legal case:
The Archive filed this case on September 5, 2007, against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and its components seeking to recover at least 5 million federal e-mail records improperly deleted by the EOP. After the government failed to provide adequate assurances that backups and copies of the missing e-mail would be preserved throughout this litigation, on October 11, 2007, CREW filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against the White House defendants in its case. A hearing in CREW's case was held before Magistrate Judge Facciola on October 17, 2007. Magistrate Judge Facciola issued a Report and Recommendation on October 19, 2007, advising the Court to grant a temporary restraining order. The government has filed objections to Magistrate Judge Facciola's Report and Recommendation.
In other words, the Bush administration is doing what it can to dodge its pursuers. CREW notes,
The White House objected to the entry of any order [to preserve email records during the litigation], despite its refusal to give adequate assurances that all necessary back-up copies of the millions of deleted emails are being preserved, and objected to that part of the order that requires the White House to maintain back-up copies in a manner that makes them usable.
Bottom line: the White House is refusing to state what was lost and is refusing to vow it will preserve records that might be needed to recover what was lost. Rose Mary Woods would be impressed.