- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

Missing e-mail messages sent to Vice President Al Gore between March 1998 and April 1999 will never be found because a "technical error" resulted in the failure of a backup tape system, the White House has told a House committee.

The messages had been sought by the Justice Department's campaign-finance task force and the House Committee on Government Reform in ongoing investigations into the White House's failure to turn over thousands of e-mail messages to comply with subpoenas from a federal grand jury and congressional committees.

The e-mail 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 on Reagan and Bush administration officials; information on the selection of corporate executives for overseas trade trips; and e-mail concerning campaign-finance activities in the 1996 election, according to Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations.

Senior Associate White House Counsel Steven F. Reich, in a letter Wednesday to the committee's chief counsel, James C. Wilson, said that in checking for the missing Gore documents, White House computer specialists discovered that the backup taping system had failed.

Mr. Reich described the problem as a configuration error involving the failure of a White House contractor to add a new e-drive to the vice president's backup taping system. He said the problem was not discovered until April 1999, when it was repaired.

Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton Thursday described the new information as "the latest outrage in this whole unfortunate matter."

The Indiana Republican said the White House counsel's office initially had certified that the committee had all the e-mail documents responsive to its subpoena, and then "led us to believe" that the missing documents "had been saved on thousands of backup tapes."

"The White House failure to turn over records about problems in the vice president's office is yet another example of the ethical minimalism that governs White House document production," he said.

White House Counsel Beth Nolan told the committee in March that "much, if not all," of Mr. Gore's e-mail messages had not been retrieved by the White House archive system, but that backup tapes from the vice president's e-mail servers were being reviewed to determine whether any could be reconstructed.

Miss Nolan said the search was aimed at restoring 3,400 backup tapes for the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and 625 backups involving Mr. Gore.

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

A computer glitch that caused the e-mail not to be retrieved was first discovered in May 1998 when Northrop Grumman Corp. 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.

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

In March, Justice Department campaign-finance task force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr. told a federal court he had begun a probe into the missing e-mail, trying to determine whether subpoenas issued by his office were "fully complied with."

Mr. Conrad said the inquiry also focused on accusations that Northrop Grumman employees working on the White House computer system were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.

Five Northrop Grumman employees told the House Government Reform Committee in March they were warned not to discuss the problem after the firm had discovered it. Three of the employees said 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 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.

Mark Lindsay, head of the White House Office of Administration, and Laura Crabtree Callahan, former White House customer-support branch chief, have denied that anyone was threatened over the missing e-mail.

Mr. Conrad said the task force learned that the White House's e-mail management system had "for some period of time" failed to collect incoming electronic messages to several officials, some of which may have included "communications related to various criminal investigations."

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