Federal Judge Orders White House to Preserve E-Mails

A federal district judge this week issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the White House from destroying back-up copies of millions of deleted emails while a lawsuit is pending to gain access to them. The judge also consolidated two separate suits filed by the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) against the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including the White House Office of Administration (OA), and the National Archives and Records Administration.

The two groups are seeking the recovery and preservation of millions of e-mail messages that were apparently deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005. White House officials have acknowledged in press and Congressional briefings that e-mails are missing from the White House archive. However, they have maintained that while some e-mails might not have been archived automatically, that they may still exist on backup tapes. In 2002, the Bush administration abandoned the electronic records management system put in place by the Clinton White House.

“The Court is demonstrating that it has significant concerns about the loss of e-mail. Our next challenge is to find out what happened to the e-mails that were sent before we filed suit. We do not know whether backups of those records have been saved or recycled,” explained the Archive’s General Counsel Meredith Fuchs.

In response to the judge’s order, White House spokesperson Scott Stanzel, said, “We will study the court’s order and the magistrate’s recommendations.” He went on to say, “However, the Office of Administration has been taking steps to maintain and preserve backup tapes for the official e-mail system. We have provided assurances to the plaintiffs and to the court that these steps were being taken.”