House Oversight Committee To Hold Hearing on Missing White House E-Mails

House Oversight and Government Operations Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has announced a hearing to investigate White House compliance with the Presidential Records Act. The hearing has been scheduled for February 15, 2008, to consider the on-going controversy over the extent of missing e-mails from White House servers from 2003-2005.

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, Counsel to the President Fred Fielding, and Alan Swendiman, the Director of the White House’s Office of Administration, have been called to testify.

Federal 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 are seeking the recovery and preservation of millions of e-mail messages that were apparently may have been deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005.

On January 15, 2008, in response to a federal court order in the case, the Chief Information Officer of the White House Office of Administration admitted the White House had recycled its e-mail back-up tapes before October 2003 and only began retaining the back-ups starting at that point. The White House also stated that “at this stage, this office does not know if any emails were not properly preserved in the archiving process,” in the period 2003-2005.

However, at a January 17, 2008 White House press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto was asked about allegations that White House e-mails have been lost from White House servers. In responding, Fratto seemed to contradict the court statement saying “we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing; there’s no evidence of that.”

In his letter asking Counsel Fielding to appear, Waxman asked “when did the White House learn about any such losses, what are the extent of such losses, what steps has the White House taken to respond to any such losses, and who was responsible for ensuring the preservation of White House e-mails during this period?”

Chairman Waxman also wants to determine whether the National Archives and the White House are adequately prepared for the turnover of Bush Administration records when the President leaves office in January 2009.

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