- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

House investigators yesterday accused Vice President Al Gore's office of hiding e-mail records by bypassing a White House computer backup system that resulted in the loss of critical messages over six years.
"There can be little doubt that the vice president's advisers knew their actions would permit his office to operate in a manner that would make it less susceptible to oversight," investigators for the House Government Reform Committee said in a report to be released Thursday.
"In effect, they 'reinvented government' to stay above the law and congressional oversight."
Investigators said a two-year probe by the committee found that the vice president's office "took affirmative steps" to avoid routing personal e-mail messages to and from Mr. Gore to the White House's Automated Records Management System (ARMS), including those sought by the Justice Department, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and Congress in separate investigations.
The ARMS system was designed to allow the White House to comply with subpoena requests and congressional oversight. The report said the missing e-mail messages cover a variety of topics, including campaign finance abuses.
Some of the missing Gore e-mail messages are being reconstructed by the FBI, although House investigators said a year's worth of Gore e-mail messages had no computer backup at all, meaning any that were deleted "are lost forever."
Investigators said it was "highly likely" Mr. Gore or his staff was responsible for the decision not to send the e-mail messages to the ARMS system to prevent them from being turned over to Congress, the Justice Department and the independent counsel's office.
"It is clear that searches for e-mails in the Office of the Vice President were incomplete. Only those e-mails that OVP staff choose to print out or had saved on their computers could have been retrieved," the report said.
White House spokesman Elliot Diringer dismissed the accusations as old news.
"We haven't been given the courtesy of getting a copy of the report, but we understand its contents already have been widely publicized," he said. "It appears [Rep. Dan] Burton has stapled together old press releases and, coincidentally, issued them a day before the first presidential debate."
Mr. Burton, Indiana Republican, is chairman of the Government Reform Committee.
Earlier this year, White House Counsel Beth Nolan acknowledged to the panel that "much, if not all" of Mr. Gore's e-mail messages had not been retrieved by the ARMS system, but said it was "entirely unintentional."
Investigators, according to the report, urged Attorney General Janet Reno to name a special counsel to probe the e-mail matter, saying the Justice Department was representing the White House in a pending lawsuit in the e-mail matter while conducting a criminal investigation into the missing documents.
They also said the department had devoted insufficient resources to the e-mail inquiry, had failed to interview a number of key witnesses and that several White House officials, including former Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and former Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills, had obstructed justice and made false statements in the e-mail probe.
Investigators also said Todd Campbell, counsel to the vice president, "personally decided" that Mr. Gore would not store his records "in a way that would permit compliance with document requests."
They said e-mail users were told that they would be able to search what was in their electronic mailbox at any given moment, but they would not be able to produce records that had been deleted.
They said the vice president's office "adopted a prophylactic program to guarantee that fewer documents would exist in the event the document requests were made."
Calls to Mr. Gore's office for comment were referred to Mr. Diringer.
The committee, along with the Justice Department, is probing accusations that the Clinton administration hid thousands of e-mail messages sent to more than 400 White House officials between September 1996 and November 1998, and that Mr. Gore's office prevented both incoming and outgoing e-mail messages to be captured by the ARMS system as required by law.
The report also said:
The White House knew that the e-mail problems discovered in November 1998 meant there had been incomplete production of documents to pending subpoenas, but senior White House personnel "did nothing" to correct the problem until it was independently discovered.
Mr. Ruff and Chief of Staff John Podesta "were clearly told" about the e-mail problems and their statements to the contrary were "implausible" based on available White House records.
Northrop Grumman Corp. contract employees who worked on the White House computer system, after they discovered the e-mail problem, were threatened by White House staff to keep the matter secret.
The Justice Department probe has focused on accusations that the White House hid the e-mail messages after threatening White House contract workers to keep the documents secret.
Campaign Finance Task Force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr. said in court papers he wanted to know if subpoenas issued by his office for the e-mail messages were "fully complied with" and if Northrop Grumman employees were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.
Northrop Grumman employees found the problem in May 1998, which was traced to an August 1996 programming error. The problem was fixed in November 1998.

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