- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

White House officials were told in February 1999 that e-mail messages subpoenaed by a federal grand jury and three congressional committees had not been turned over because of a computer glitch, but opted to "let sleeping dogs lie" by not telling anyone about the problem.

A Feb. 5, 1999, White House memo by Karl H. Heissner, an official in the Office of Administration, detailed extensive information about the computer problem that prevented e-mail messages from being retrieved and revealed that the White House knew the glitch had affected their obligation to preserve presidential records.

The memo had been prepared as a briefing paper for White House officials scheduled to testify before Congress.

"Records management, mandated by law, requires among other things that incoming and outgoing e-mail meeting certain criteria to be considered federal records be archived for future retrieval," the memo said, noting that "several months went by" before any corrections were made.

In his memo, written to fellow Office of Administration employee Dorothy E. Cleal, Mr. Heissner suggested he was reluctant to tell Congress about the status of official document requests to the White House both from lawmakers and "litigants against the government" because White House statistics showed that such requests were on the decline.

"We did not want to call attention to the issue by bringing the issue to the attention of Congress because last year's hours consumed by … staff amounts to only a little over 500, this year's hours consumed so far amounts to only 65, and the level of requests appears to be declining," the memo said.

For emphasis, Mr. Heissner added: "Let sleeping dogs lie."

Mr. Kennedy told reporters Sunday that Mr. Heissner's memo showed that presidential aides never intended to hide the problem and were prepared to answer questions about it.

"We have seen no documents that in any way suggest that the e-mail problem was hidden from Congress," he said.

The memo, first reported by the Associated Press, disclosed that the White House solicited a bid in October 1998 from government contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. which had discovered the glitch to retrieve the uncollected e-mail messages at a cost of about $600,000.

Although the Heissner memo specifically outlined the computer glitch and presented Northrop Grumman's proposal to fix it, no action was taken until this year after The Washington Times reported in February that the e-mail messages were missing and the White House had threatened Northrop Grumman employees if they told anyone about the missing documents.

Mr. Heissner is scheduled to testify tomorrow before the House Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the missing White House e-mail messages. Another witness will be Michael Lyle, director of the White House Office of Administration.

Meanwhile, the committee yesterday criticized the White House for withholding documents the panel had sought concerning e-mail messages to Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom President Clinton has admitted having a sexual relationship.

The White House claimed the e-mail messages were subject to privilege and did not relate to the committee's ongoing investigation of the computer glitch. White House Associate Counsel Dimitri J. Nionakis told the committee in a letter Friday that a subpoena for the Lewinsky e-mail messages was an unwarranted expansion of the committee's investigation.

James Wilson, the panel's general counsel, wrote yesterday to Mr. Nionakis that the White House was stonewalling efforts to obtain the documents and that his "meaningless legal mumbo-jumbo is obviously a transparent ploy to provoke wasteful and time-consuming squabbles over documents."

"The committee cannot rely on the word of White House lawyers, who themselves are under investigation by the Justice Department, to determine whether a good-faith effort was made to determine whether the White House had an ongoing problem that either had to be fixed or, at a minimum, disclosed to Congress," Mr. Wilson said.

A White House spokesman, Jim Kennedy, denied any bad faith.

"We have already turned over a lot of material to [Committee Chairman Dan] Burton," he said. "What he is seeking is not historical information about the origins of this problem but current information generated only as a result of his inquiry."

Mr. Kennedy added that the White House "would like to reach an accommodation with the committee to provide them with what they legitimately need in a way that doesn't interfere with our ability to do our job."

The Justice Department announced last month it was investigating accusations the White House hid e-mail messages subpoenaed by the campaign finance task force after threatening contract workers with jail if they didn't keep the documents secret.

Robert J. Conrad Jr., head of the department's campaign finance task force, told a federal court investigators want to know if subpoenas issued by his office for the e-mail messages were "fully complied with."

He also said the probe would focus on accusations Northrop Grumman employees working on the White House computer system were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.

Mr. Conrad told the U.S. District Court in Washington the task force had learned 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."

Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations, has said the missing messages involved Miss Lewinsky; the White House's receipt of secret FBI files; information on the selection of corporate executives for overseas trade trips; and campaign finance activities in the 1996 election.

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.

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