- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

A federal judge yesterday ordered the White House to explain at a hearing Thursday why it has taken five months to come up with a plan to locate thousands of missing e-mail messages sought by a federal grand jury and three congressional committees.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered the hearing after ruling the Executive Office of the President had not provided the court with "any explanation" why no estimate had been developed on when its e-mail restoration project would be tested, modified or completed.

"Instead, after 20 weeks, the EOP has not made one concrete step towards producing any of the [missing e-mail documents] and cannot give the court any estimate on when it might do so," the judge said. "Accordingly, the court finds that an evidentiary hearing … is warranted."

Last month, Judge Lamberth gave the White House 20 days to locate and turn over missing White House e-mail records for 33 persons, including President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He also demanded the e-mail for former White House Counsels Bernard Nussbaum and Charles F.C. Ruff; and current and former White House aides Bruce Lindsey, Harold Ickes, Sidney Blumenthal and George Stephanopoulos.

The judge also ordered the search for the missing records be expanded to encompass several specific terms, including "background" and "summary" reports, "FBI files" and e-mail involving Linda R. Tripp, Kathleen E. Willey and several Pentagon officials.

The order came in a pending $90 million lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, which has sued the White House in the "Filegate" scandal.

In February, The Washington Times reported that thousands of e-mail messages sent to the White House between 1996 and 1998 had not been retrieved during a search of White House records in response to subpoenas from a federal grand jury and three congressional committees.

Sheryl L. Hall, then-chief of White House computer operations, said the missing messages involved Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom Mr. Clinton admitted having a sexual relationship; the White House's receipt of secret FBI files; information on the selection of corporate executives for overseas trade trips; and e-mail concerning campaign-finance activities in the 1996 election.

Later, it was learned that e-mail messages involving Vice President Al Gore between March 1998 and April 1999 also had not been retrieved and were also missing due to what the White House described as a "technical error" that resulted in the failure of a backup tape system.

House investigators have said that more than 246,000 e-mail messages are believed to be missing.

The e-mail problem was first discovered in May 1998 when contract employees for Northrop Grumman Corp. traced a programming error on one of four White House servers back to August 1996. The missing e-mail messages were discovered when Northrop Grumman found that one of the four White House Lotus Notes e-mail servers handling the mail was mislabeled and a search of e-mail messages under subpoena was incomplete.

During testimony before the House Government Reform Committee, five Northrop Grumman employees said they were warned to keep quiet about the problem once it had been discovered. Three of them said they were threatened with jail if they told anyone.

Betty Lambuth, former manager of the Lotus Notes Group at the White House, told the committee she was told that if she or any of her team mentioned the error to anyone else, "we would lose our jobs, be arrested and put in jail."

Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Lambuth are scheduled to testify on Thursday.

The White House has denied that anyone was threatened.

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