Judge Orders White House to Respond to Questions about Missing E-Mails

On January 8, 2008, a federal magistrate judge ordered the White House to respond within five days to questions concerning backup copies of e-mails missing from White House servers.

This is the latest development in lawsuits 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.

In November 2007, Federal District Court judge Henry Kennedy issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the White House from destroying backup copies of any deleted e-mails while the lawsuit was pending. CREW and the National Security Archive are seeking expedited discovery to determine what, if any, backup copies of the missing e-mail still exist. In advance of ruling on the discovery request Magistrate Judge Facciola required the White House defendants to answer, through a sworn declaration, questions about whether the backups are identifiable by period of time they cover, whether they are identifiable by data they contain, whether they contain e-mails created between 2003 and 2005, and whether they contain the missing e-mails.

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 However, they have maintained that while some e-mails might not have been archived automatically, that they may still exist on backup tapes.