- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

A search for thousands of missing White House e-mail messages, including those involving Vice President Al Gore, is not expected to be completed by the November election and will cost three times more than administration officials had promised.

The missing e-mails, believed to number more than 246,000, had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury and three congressional committees, but were never turned over because of what the White House has described as a computer glitch.

Michael Lyle, director of the White House Office of Administration, told the House Government Reform Committee yesterday during six hours of often rancorous debate that the cost of the search will reach $8 million to $10 million. The White House estimated last month the search would cost $3 million.

"It's going to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time," Mr. Lyle said as he rushed from the hearing room following his testimony. He declined to comment further.

But Eric Duong, an official at ECS Technologies Inc. of Fairfax, Va., which was contracted by the White House to set up a computer software program to conduct the e-mail search, told House investigators last week he did not expect the project to be completed until Thanksgiving.

Mr. Duong, according to James Wilson, the committee's majority counsel, said once the software is established, a test program conducted and administration officials trained to use the system, the e-mails would then be forwarded to the White House Counsel's Office, where they would be evaluated to determine if they were to be turned over to the committee.

Mr. Wilson said ECS Technologies found that many of the 4,925 White House backup computer tapes that have to be searched were in disarray and some were not labeled or dated. About 600 of the tapes involved e-mails to and from Mr. Gore.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and committee chairman, said he did not expect the e-mails would be delivered before the Nov. 7 presidential election.

"I don't believe we will get the records until after the election," Mr. Burton said. "I think they will try to run this thing out beyond the election. I doubt seriously they will give us any before Thanksgiving."

Last month, White House Counsel Beth Nolan told the committee the e-mail search would cost $3 million and would be completed by the end of September. She said work on the project had "already begun" and that all of the e-mails would be located before Election Day.

White House spokesman James Kennedy yesterday said the administration believes it will "still be able to search and produce e-mails as early as June and we'll be able to continue to do so on a rolling basis throughout the summer and fall."

"We also expect to do our searches on a priority basis so that the most important information can be derived early on," he said, adding that the need for an additional contractor to review the work had increased the costs.

Mr. Kennedy also said a priority list has yet to be determined by the White House Counsel's Office, although it would be responsive to ongoing investigations.

The missing e-mails also are the focus of investigations by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force and independent counsel Robert W. Ray.

During yesterday's testimony, Mr. Lyle acknowledged the White House waited nearly two years before seeking funds from Congress to retrieve the missing e-mails, but said the administration's top priority was dealing with the year-2000 computer problem.

Asked by Republicans why no effort was made to at least reveal to Congress that a computer glitch had resulted in more than 246,000 e-mails not being retrieved, Mr. Lyle said his "singular purpose was Y2K."

"Y2K preparations were a greater priority," Mr. Lyle said. "That project was the No. 1 priority."

While acknowledging that he knew vast numbers of the e-mail messages had not been retrieved, he told the committee he was "not aware of any subpoena compliance issues." He said after he became director in November 1998, his focus was on the technical issues of correcting the problem.

But Mr. Burton discounted the explanation, saying the White House did not seek funds to correct the problem because it would have had to admit the e-mails were missing. He said the goal was to ensure that Congress did not discover the problem.

"There was a long debate over whether to ask Congress for money to fix the problem," Mr. Burton said. "If they revealed the problem, then Congress would know that document requests and subpoenas had not been complied with."

The committee's ranking Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, apologized to the witnesses for what he called "shocking" questions by the Republican majority.

"They have treated you with a swipe of the back of their hands, and I find that astonishing," Mr. Waxman said. "More than astonishing, I find it troublesome and unprofessional."

Earlier, Republicans had described as damaging a White House memo showing the administration considered deleting e-mails from the file of White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, a figure in the Monica Lewinsky investigation. The Jan. 8, 1999, memo said the deletions were considered in December 1998 when e-mail messages to Mr. Blumenthal "from an external source" backed up a computer system at the Executive Office of the President.

After the messages had been deleted, the memo said "the issue arose as to whether it could be removed" from the automated-records management system, which scans e-mail "in-boxes" and transfers copies to a mainframe computer where they are stored for production in response to subpoenas and other requests.

Mr. Lyle said a single e-mail to Mr. Blumenthal from the U.S. Embassy in London had duplicated itself numerous times, causing his computer to crash. He said the White House decided to delete the duplicates while saving the original. He did not describe the content of the U.S. Embassy message.

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