Independent counsel Robert W. Ray has subpoenaed National Archives records to determine whether White House officials hid e-mail messages being sought by a federal grand jury and congressional committees.
The subpoena, issued last week, calls for the archives the government’s official record keeper to turn over documents “relating to record-keeping practices in the executive office of the president.” Archives officials advised the White House on how to maintain its electronic mail.
Spokeswoman Susan Cooper said the agency “intends to comply as required.”
Mr. Ray, named in October to replace independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, is wrapping up a six-year investigation of the Clinton administration, including the writing of a final report and a determination on whether President Clinton will be indicted once he leaves office.
The subpoena puts Mr. Ray in the middle of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force and congressional committees into accusations the White House hid the e-mail messages and threatened contract workers to keep the documents secret.
The Justice Department probe began in March. Task force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr., according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said the inquiry is aimed at determining 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 told the court 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.”
Some of the missing e-mail messages, perhaps as many as 4,000, are said to have involved Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom Mr. Clinton admitted having a sexual relationship.
Mr. Ray’s office was the lead agency in the Lewinsky probe and took the matter before the grand jury, issuing subpoenas for documents concerning her contacts and conversations with others about the affair.
The independent counsel’s office, which is interviewing witnesses in the e-mail flap jointly with task force investigators, wants to know if officials at the archives knew about the missing e-mail messages, when they learned of them and if they had information on whether they were related to the Ray investigation.
The National Archives, under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, advises the White House about managing presidential records. But it takes custody of the documents only after the president leaves office.
Last week, the Justice Department task force investigators questioned Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore each for four hours. The White House confirmed the interviews but declined to say what questions were asked during the separate sessions.
Included in those missing e-mail messages, the White House has acknowledged yesterday, are 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 the congressional committees.
Neille Mallon Russell, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ray’s office, declined comment on the subpoena.
White House spokesman James Kennedy said the administration was continuing to “work hard to reconstruct and search the backup tapes and produce any relevant information” concerning the missing e-mail, but had no immediate comment on the Archives subpoena.
“We’ve been very clear about the fact that we are cooperating fully with Congress and others who have an interest in this case,” he said.
The Washington Times reported in February 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 the grand jury and three congressional committees.
Three of the employees told the committee they were threatened with jail if they mentioned the missing e-mail messages to anyone.
One employee, Betty Lambuth, former manager of the Lotus Notes Group at the White House, testified 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.”
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.
The House Committee on Government Reform also is investigating the missing e-mail. The task force and Mr. Ray’s office are conducting some of the interviews jointly for efficiency’s sake, officials said.