- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

White House Counsel Beth Nolan was subpoenaed yesterday by a House committee to explain why the administration waited five months before investigating why thousands of e-mail messages sought by a federal grand jury and three congressional committees were missing.

The subpoena was issued by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which is probing the failure of the White House to turn over thousands of e-mails during a two-year period.

Miss Nolan is scheduled to appear before the committee on Thursday, during an already scheduled hearing at which Northrop Grumman Corp. employees will testify White House officials threatened them with jail if they discussed the administration's failure to turn over the e-mail messages.

On Friday, the White House blamed "entirely unintentional" computer breakdowns for the problem. Miss Nolan, in a letter to Mr. Burton, said reconstructing the e-mail messages from 1996 to 1999 would involve a costly and time-consuming undertaking up to $3 million and as long as two years.

Miss Nolan said the White House did not know "if any responsive information is contained in the unrecorded e-mails." She also said that while researching the issue, an additional problem was discovered that could result in missing e-mails in Vice President Al Gore's office. The scope of that problem was unknown.

White House spokesman James Kennedy said the administration was not making a commitment to the restoration effort, but would discuss the matter with Mr. Burton.

Miss Nolan said two separate computer failures made it impossible for document searches to find the e-mail messages. One problem lasted from August 1996 through November 1998 and affected incoming mail to 526 White House users. Incoming mail for 200 other accounts were affected by the second error, lasting from November 1998 to May 1999.

Mr. Burton, in a letter yesterday to Miss Nolan, said it was "unclear" what steps the White House took after learning about the problem to "pass the information along to the Justice Department, the independent counsels and Congress."

"I am interested in what you did to solve the problem," he said.

Six Northrop Grumman employees have told committee lawyers and a federal court they were ordered not to tell anyone including their bosses and spouses about the missing e-mail messages.

One of the employees, Betty Lambuth, manager of the Lotus Notes Group at the White House, told U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth that after she advised Mark Lindsay, head of the White House Office of Administration, of the problem, she was told if she or any of her team mentioned the error to anyone else, "we would lose our jobs, be arrested and put in jail."

Mrs. Lambuth later was removed from her job when she refused to tell her boss about the problem. She now works for a Northrop Grumman subcontractor that helps run and maintain the White House computer system.

The missing e-mail messages had been sought under subpoena by a federal grand jury, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Government Reform Committee during several ongoing investigations.

Last month, Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations, told The Washington Times the White House covered up the fact that e-mail from August 1996 to November 1998 had not been surrendered as required by law. She said the missing e-mail 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 error involved e-mail to and from 464 White House computer users.

Mrs. Hall, who now works at the Treasury Department, said 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 for computer users was mislabeled and a search of e-mail messages under subpoena was incomplete.

She said e-mail from that server was not properly managed over a two-year period meaning it was not collected by the mainframe computer during the subpoena-record search.

Newly obtained information shows the threat to the Northrop Grumman employees that they would be jailed came from Laura Crabtree, White House customer-support branch chief, during a June 15, 1998, meeting in her office, according to lawyers and others familiar with the growing scandal.

Miss Crabtree told the employees the matter was "extremely sensitive," warned them not to tell anyone about it without explicit authorization, and said the consequences would be a "jail cell."

The White House automated-records management system was designed to scan e-mail "in-boxes" of every user once every several minutes and transfer copies of incoming e-mail messages to a mainframe computer, where they were stored for production in response to subpoenas, Freedom of Information requests and other purposes.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide