- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

Former White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff Thursday said he may have failed to adequately pursue missing White House e-mails, but denied there was any effort to hide the problem from Congress or federal prosecutors.

"If in fact we failed, it was by inadvertence and unintentional," Mr. Ruff told a House committee. "I am willing to assume the embarrassment of failing to adequately pursue the matter. But never, not once, did anyone on my staff seek to delay the production of any document."

A federal grand jury and three congressional committees had issued subpoenas for the e-mails, which were never delivered because of what the White House has said was a computer glitch.

Mr. Ruff told the House Government Reform Committee he concluded at one point the missing e-mails had not affected the White House's production of documents since a limited test of messages sent to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky had shown they were duplicates of ones that had already been produced.

"I candidly put it aside and went on to other matters," he said. "If I had concluded there was a broader-ranging problem, I obviously would have done something about it."

The committee is probing the administration's failure to turn over an estimated 246,000 e-mails the panel believes were never delivered to federal and congressional investigators. 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.

Mr. Ruff told the committee he first learned of the e-mail problem in June 1998 and while a test search was ordered in an attempt to determine the extent of the problem, he did not recall who conducted it.

"I can vouch for you this much," Mr. Ruff said. "I know a search was being done … by one or more members of my staff. If I knew who that was, I would tell you who that was. But I do not recall."

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and committee chairman, challenged the answer, along with many others during the course of a rancorous hearing that lasted all day.

"You don't know who you asked to conduct the search? That stretches credulity," he said. "Nobody remembers anything. A lot of people in the White House simply don't remember anything."

Former Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills said she was aware of the problem and knew a test had been conducted but believed the test had shown the Lewinsky e-mail messages were duplicates.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, angrily accused Republicans of "smearing people's reputations," saying the panel's probe had failed to show any attempt to hide the documents.

"A more plausible explanation is that Mr. Ruff and others in the White House Counsel's Office simply did a bad job in responding to the system defect that resulted in missing e-mails," he said. "It's embarrassing to have to face that, but mistakes happen."

Mr. Waxman described it as "an unfortunate mistake," but said "it doesn't amount to a scandal."

Earlier, in a prepared statement, Miss Mills bitterly chastised the panel, saying she left government because she was "tired of playing a role in dramas like today, when so many issues that mattered to me were not being addressed.

"You could spend your time making the lives of the individuals you serve better, as opposed to tearing down the staff of a president with whose vision and policies you disagree," she said.

Her comments drew an angry rebuke from Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, who said she had omitted from her statement "respect for the law" and the responsibility of court officers "to disclose material facts to properly constituted authorities.

"For evil to prevail, it is enough for good people to do nothing," he quoted. "I don't get the sense much was done by the good people in the White House to confront the potential evil flowing from the missing e-mails."

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