- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

A Justice Department investigation began Thursday into accusations that the White House hid e-mail messages subpoenaed by the campaign finance task force including those sent to Vice President Al Gore after threatening White House contract workers to keep the documents secret.
Task force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr., according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, wants to know whether subpoenas issued by his office for the e-mail messages were "fully complied with." He also wants to know whether Northrop Grumman Corp. employees working on the White House computer system were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.
Mr. Conrad said the task force has learned that the White House's e-mail management system had "for some period of time" failed to collect incoming electronic messages sent to several officials, some of which may have included "communications related to various criminal investigations."
Included in those missing e-mail messages, the White House acknowledged Thursday, were those sent to Mr. Gore before 1997, when he and other high-ranking administration and Democratic Party figures were the focus of campaign finance investigations by the Justice Department and at least two congressional committees.
"It appears that much, if not all" of Mr. Gore's e-mail messages were not retrieved by the archive system, White House counsel Beth Nolan told a House committee Thursday, adding that backup tapes from Mr. Gore's e-mail system are being reviewed to determine whether any can be reconstructed.
Miss Nolan called the mistake "entirely unintentional," saying the vice president's office used a different e-mail system that until 1997 could not be retrieved by the White House's Automated Records Management System (ARMS).
The Justice Department disclosed its investigation in a court filing asking U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth to delay a request by a public-interest law firm for the release of the missing documents and interviews of 20 persons in a pending $90 million lawsuit in the Filegate case.
Mr. Conrad told the court there would be "a direct overlap between the allegations that the plaintiffs want to pursue in this case and the matters that the task force is investigating."
The e-mail documents had been sought under subpoena by Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch President Larry Klayman Thursday called the Justice Department's request for a delay a "ploy," saying the White House was using the department's campaign finance task force to stop the suit.
"This is just another tactic to delay Judicial Watch until after the 2000 presidential elections, particularly as they relate to Mr. Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton," he said. "The fact that they would try this ploy must mean there are incriminating e-mails they don't want to give up."
Revelations concerning the missing e-mail messages, including Mr. Gore's involvement in the growing problem, spurred new accusations Thursday by Republicans who believe the White House has failed to turn over key documents in a number of investigations.
Campaigning in Florida, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, chided Mr. Gore, saying, "There needs to be a controlling legal authority in the White House."
He was referring to the vice president's defense when he first said in 1997 that there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his fund-raising activities.
"The best campaign finance reform starts with having an administration that will adhere to the law and an attorney general who will enforce the law," he said. "I look forward to seeing where these e-mails are and what was in these e-mails."
The Washington Times reported last month 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.
The missing e-mail messages were the topic of a daylong hearing Thursday before the House Government Reform Committee, which heard five Northrop Grumman employees testify that they were warned not to discuss the problem after the firm had discovered it.
Three of the employees told the committee they were threatened with jail if they mentioned the missing e-mail messages to anyone.
One of the employees, Betty Lambuth, former manager of the Lotus Notes Group at the White House, testified that 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."
Another, Robert Haas, a systems administrator, said he was told there was a "jail cell with my name on it" if he told even his wife.
They told the committee the threats came from Mark Lindsay, head of the White House Office of Administration, and Laura Crabtree Callahan, former White House customer-support branch chief. Both denied under oath to the committee that any threats were ever issued.
"I unequivocally deny that I threatened anyone regarding disclosure of the e-mail situation," Mr. Lindsay said.
Mrs. Callahan also disputed accusations that she had threatened anyone with jail, saying those making the charges "may be having bad recollection or … might have an overactive imagination."
Mr. Lindsay also said he did not remember discussing the matter during a telephone conference call with Mrs. Callahan and the five Northrop Grumman employees, although all five vividly recounted the conversation during nearly five hours of testimony.
Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations, said the missing messages involved Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom President 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.
The glitch was first discovered in May 1998 when the Northrop Grumman contract employees 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 the hearing, committee Republicans questioned why the White House did nothing to correct the e-mail problem once it had been brought to the attention of Mr. Lindsay and Mrs. Callahan, suggesting that administration officials did not want to turn over the documents.
The committee made public a June 19, 1998, memo from a presidential aide to then-Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta telling him of an "anomaly in the system involving the Mail2 server."
They also released a handwritten note showing that Mr. Podesta had asked an aide "to brief me on this."

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