Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bush-ness as Usual

Today more allegations that the Bush administration has lost or deleted millions of classified emails were leveled. For years, the Bush administration alleges it relied on an inadequate archiving system for storing the millions of e-mails sent through White House servers, but newly uncovered facts say the White House scrapped the custom archiving system that was ordered by federal court during the Clinton administration. Also,from 2001 to 2003, the Bush White House recorded over computer backup tapes erasing the last line of defense for preserving e-mails, even though a similar practice landed the Clinton administration in legal trouble.

As a result, several years' worth of electronic communication have been lost, including e-mails documenting administration actions in the run-up to the Iraq war, the Valerie Plame incident, both election fraud debacles, the ENRON case and the whole special prosecutor scandal to name a few...

As usual, White House officials said last week that they have "no reason to believe" that any e-mails were deliberately destroyed or are missing. But over the past year, they have acknowledged problems with archiving, saving and finding e-mails dating from early in the administration until at least 2005.
The administration's e-mail policies have been repeatedly challenged by lawmakers and open-government groups, in congressional hearings and in court. Two groups, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, have accused the White House in lawsuits of violating the Federal Records Act because of what they say is its failure to preserve millions of e-mails, a charge the White House rejects.

The White House's record-keeping problems have thrown new attention on a gap in statutory language covering the retention of presidential records."If it is a presidential record, then it does need to be retained. It doesn't matter what the format is -- e-mails can be records," said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration. But the agency has no power to intervene if an administration is not preserving presidential records, inadvertently or not, Cooper said.

The law governing non-presidential federal records is stronger. The National Archives can demand an explanation from any federal agency that it suspects is mishandling records, and it can request a Justice Department probe. Private parties can sue to force compliance with federal records laws, but not the presidential-records statute.
Controversy surrounding the Bush administration's policies intensified on Thursday, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released details of a briefing by White House special counsel Emmet T. Flood, in which he disclosed that a 2005 White House study had identified 473 separate days in which no electronic messages were stored for one or more component offices.

In the presidential offices, for example, not a single e-mail was archived on Dec. 17, 20 or 21 in 2003 -- the week after the capture of Saddam Hussein. According to the study summary that the committee released, e-mails were not archived for Vice President Cheney's office on four days in early October 2003, coinciding with the start of a Justice Department probe into the leak of a CIA officer's identity, which later led to criminal charges against Cheney's chief of staff.

This e-mail controversy echoes the GOP-led witch-hunt that rocked the Clinton administration a decade ago, when GOP-led congressional probes found that thousands of White House e-mails had been lost, spending nearly $12 million to retrieve missing e-mails for congressional investigators from backup tapes.

The GAO report concluded that Gore's office "did not implement adequate records management practices to ensure that all e-mail records generated or received were preserved in accordance with applicable law and best practices."

By the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, White House officials said the problem had been solved. But shortly after Bush took office, his administration began taking steps to phase out the system. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel would not comment on why the back-up/archival system was eliminated.

In April, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino referenced the e-mail software change in answering a reporter's question about millions of lost e-mails alleged by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive. "I wouldn't rule out that there were a potential 5 million e-mails lost," she said. "There was no intent to have lost them."

Now, true to form, the White House appears to have changed its stance-again. "We have no reason to believe that any e-mails, at all, are missing," spokesman Tony Fratto said Thursday, before declining to answer further questions Friday.

--move along--
nothing to look at here, just your typical despots in action
- step lively - next on our tour-

the ancient artifacts we formerly cared about...

the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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