- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

Throughout Charles F.C. Ruff's two-and-a-half-year tenure as White House counsel, the administration routinely responded to congressional subpoenas with stonewalling tactics. In November 1997, 10 weeks before the president's sordid affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed, Mr. Ruff traveled to Capitol Hill and insisted that all of the delays in providing campaign-finance documents and videotapes were the result of innocent mistakes. Yesterday, the former White House counsel deployed the same ruse, telling the House Government Reform Committee that "never … did anyone on my staff seek to cover up any document production" involving the hundreds of thousands of unretrieved e-mail messages. "If in fact we failed," Mr. Ruff said, as though there were some doubt that the White House counsel office's effort to produce the missing e-mails was anything less than complete, "it was by inadvertence and unintentional." Yet another innocent mistake.

In fact, in June 1998, at the very moment the Lewinsky investigation had reached a feverish pitch, computer technicians told White House lawyers, who were in charge of complying with subpoenas issued by the various investigative bodies, that a major computer glitch had rendered at least 100,000 e-mail messages temporarily irretrievable. The availability of potentially incriminating e-mails would certainly have affected several criminal investigations, particularly given that thousands of the e-mails are said to involve Miss Lewinsky, campaign finance, Filegate and accusations involving the selling of seats on trade missions for political contributions. The White House, however, never informed any of the investigating bodies that the computer glitch created a major problem in complying with their subpoenas.

Yet the White House did take steps in order to prevent Congress from learning about the missing e-mails. Mark Lindsay, the head of the White House Office of Administration and the one who informed Mr. Ruff of the e-mail problem in June 1998, had been scheduled to appear before Congress at that time to testify about appropriations. White House officials deleted a talking point detailing the e-mail problem from the agenda Mr. Lindsay took to Capitol Hill. Thus, White House officials purposely avoided requesting money to fix the problem because they would have had to reveal the problem first.

White House computer specialist Karl Heissner actually prepared a Feb. 5, 1999, memo detailing the extent of the e-mail problem. Mr. Heissner's memo, which was issued a week before Mr. Clinton's impeachment trial ended, served as a briefing paper for White House officials scheduled to testify before Congress. Noting that document requests to the White House had begun to decline, Mr. Heissner expressed a reluctance to tell Congress about the status of those requests. "We did not want to call attention to the issue by bringing the issue to the attention of Congress," Mr. Heissner's memo revealed. Better to "let sleeping dogs lie," Mr. Heissner added, explaining why the e-mail problem was yet again kept under the rug.

Finally, there is the chilling tale told by several White House computer technicians who have testified before Congress that White House officials threatened them with jail if they revealed the e-mail problem to their outside bosses or even to their spouses. As it happened, the White House never acknowledged the e-mail problem until Jerry Seper of The Washington Times exposed it in February of this year, and it had done nothing to resolve it. Having covered up the extent of the e-mail problem for more than 20 months, White House officials audaciously testified this week that the search and recovery of the missing e-mail messages, some of which involve Vice President Al Gore, would probably not be completed before the November election. It's just another inadvertent and unintended failure, Mr. Ruff and others would have us believe. It's also another reason not to count on this administration for the truth, now or in the future.

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