- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

Al Gore cannot have it both ways. The vice president, who once asserted he played an indispensable role in the creation of the Internet, now wants the public to believe that he and his staff were unaware for years that the computer system in his office was enmeshed in so much chaos that it could not even keep track of its e-mails. Despite evidence to the contrary, moreover, the administration is making the utterly implausible claim that it did not learn about Mr. Gore's computer problems, which date at least to 1994, until this month.
In an equally implausible assertion, White House Counsel Beth Nolan insists that her predecessor, Charles F.C. Ruff, was somehow led to believe, ever so conveniently, that technicians had solved a separate White House computer glitch. That problem prevented the legally required archiving of an estimated 100,000 incoming e-mail messages sent to nearly 500 White House computers. To this day, years' worth of the e-mail messages sent to and from the vice president and his staff, as well as the 100,000 sent to the Executive Office of the President between September 1996 and November 1998, remain disbursed in cyberspace or recorded on back-up tapes. All of them have been subject to subpoenas, some several years old, issued by the Justice Department's campaign-finance task force; House and Senate committees investigating numerous campaign-finance scandals involving the president and the vice president; the independent counsel's office investigating Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate and the Monica Lewinsky scandal; and Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, which, in pursuit of civil litigation against the White House, uncovered the e-mail scandal.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has petitioned a federal judge to delay Judicial Watch's access to the e-mails in a pending $90 million suit in the Filegate matter. Justice campaign task force chief Robert Conrad Jr. has cited a "direct overlap between the the allegations" he "wants to pursue in this case and and the matters the task force is investigating." It's worth recalling what happened the Justice Department called off a Los Angeles-based U.S. attorney's investigation into the illegal Buddhist temple fund-raiser attended by Mr. Gore. The task force's investigation languished for months while witnesses fled the country. Judicial Watch's suit is now four-years old, and the Justice Department ought not be permitted to sidetrack it as it did the Buddhist temple investigation.
The Justice Department has opened its own criminal investigation of the White House to determine if President Clinton and others illegally suppressed the e-mail messages subpoenaed by the various investigative bodies. The Justice Department last week also announced another investigation to determine whether White House officials threatened to jail computer technicians working for a private contractor if they revealed the existence of the missing e-mails.
At a hearing before the House Government Reform Committee on Thursday, three of the nongovernment technicians asserted that White House officials threatened to jail them if they revealed the e-mail problem to their spouses or their superiors. At the same hearing, Laura Crabtree Callahan, one of those accused of issuing the jail threats, denied under oath doing so. But she did testify that she had emphasized to the technicians that it was important for them to keep the case of the missing e-mails private because "this was a situation we needed to be careful of, because it was sensitive."
And why was it "sensitive"? Because the discovery that 100,000 e-mails had been missing was made in June 1998, precisely the time when the independent counsel and Congress were investigating the Lewinsky scandal and other matters. Needless to say, the emergence of potentially incriminating e-mails would have affected several criminal investigations, particularly given that thousands of the e-mails are said to involve Miss Lewinsky, campaign finance, Filegate and accusations involving the selling of seats on trade missions for political contributions. Yet, the White House never informed any investigating body that the computer glitch created a major problem in complying with their subpoenas.
The White House has offered no rational explanation why it believed the 100,000 missing e-mails had been retrieved and examined for their relevance to the various subpoenas. Instead, in a statement Miss Nolan simply asserts, "While the counsel's office knew in June 1998 that a configuration error had existed, it believed that the problem was fixed and did not, until recently, understand the scope and possible effect on e-mail records searches of this error." Deploying the Gomer Pyle defense, Miss Nolan's statement, noting that she and other White House Counsel Office officials were merely "lawyers with laypersons' understanding of the technical complexities of electronic messaging and archiving," further asserts: "As Mr. Ruff understood the technical problem at the time, he did not think the error had an effect on the previous searches or that it might affect future searches of e-mail records. As a result, Mr. Ruff had no reason to believe there was any need to notify investigative bodies of this error." Finally, and again without offering any credible explanation, Miss Nolan's statement observes, "The counsel's office believed that all necessary steps to make a complete search had been taken. They did not know that there was any remaining problem prospective or retrospective."
Why did Mr. Ruff and others believe things that were patently untrue? Who led them to think or believe such falsities? Or did they merely assume them to be true? Given that neither Mr. Ruff nor any other White House official ever informed investigators of the computer-generated problem the White House had in complying with their subpoenas, did Mr. Ruff and others then not have the responsibility to learn beyond a doubt that the problem had in fact been solved? Clearly, they could easily have learned otherwise. At best, it was a case of willfully ignorant misfeasance. At worst, it was obstruction of justice.
Miss Nolan's statement regarding the computer problems affecting the Office of the Vice President is even less believable. She claims that the problem was discovered only this month. However, a September 1998 memo has surfaced contradicting that claim. Written by White House computer technician Daniel Barry, the memo did, in fact, identify the problem in Mr. Gore's office. The only e-mails entering the archiving system's "records bucket" in Mr. Gore's office, Mr. Barry reported 18 months ago, were those that had crossed over into the White House's main computer system.
As in the cases of the missing e-mails in the Executive Office of the President and the threats allegedly used to prevent their disclosure, the Justice Department can hardly be relied upon to conduct an honest investigation of Mr. Gore's missing e-mails. Congressional oversight will be extremely important. The hearing by the House Government Reform Committee last week was a good start. Miss Nolan is expected to testify on the Hill this week. But more hearings will be essential to assure public confidence in an investigation to determine whether Messrs. Clinton, Gore and Ruff and other White House officials were willfully ignorant or actively engaged in the obstruction of justice.

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