- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

A House committee is investigating 1998 telephone calls made to the White House by an attorney representing Northrup Grumman Corp. after the firm was told its workers had been threatened over their discovery that thousands of e-mail messages sought by a federal grand jury were missing.

House Government Reform Committee investigators want to know if two calls by Washington lawyer Earl J. Silbert contradict sworn testimony by White House officials who said they were unaware of the threats and were not told of the seriousness of the e-mail problem until 1999.

According to a memo sent to committee members, the calls came after the workers sought "an extraordinary meeting with high-level Northrup Grumman" officials to discuss the threats reportedly made after they found that thousands of e-mail messages sent to the White House between August 1996 and November 1998 were never turned over.

"Silbert's contacts with the White House have a potentially significant impact on the e-mail investigation," the memo said. "The White House counsel's office has claimed it was ignorant of allegations that White House staff threatened Northrup Grumman employees to keep the e-mail problem secret.

"If Silbert was hired by Northrup Grumman to contact the White House about the e-mail problem, it is possible he discussed the threats with the White House counsel," it said.

The five-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, said Mr. Silbert's contacts with the White House also could "dramatically undermine White House claims of a disconnect that prevented them from understanding the e-mail problem."

The matter is scheduled to be debated during a hearing tomorrow.

Northrup Grumman has declined to discuss with House investigators Mr. Silbert's role in the case, citing attorney-client privilege. The memo said Mr. Silbert refused to be interviewed, saying the session would "touch upon privileged matters and that it would be unproductive."

Billing records obtained by investigators show Mr. Silbert met with Northrup Grumman officials on Sept. 11, 1998 two days after the workers complained to company lawyer Joseph Lucente about the threats. Mr. Silbert also met with Northrup Grumman counsel or employees on Sept. 12, 1998; Sept. 15, 1998; and Sept. 22, 1998, the memo said.

On Sept. 28, 1998, Mr. Silbert had a teleconference call "with an individual" in the White House counsel's office, the memo said. He met again with Northrup Grumman officials on Dec. 15, 1998, and had a second teleconference with an unnamed person in the White House counsel's office on Dec. 30, 1998.

"If Silbert did make the White House aware of the allegations, and the counsel's office still failed to act, it would demonstrate a serious disregard for allegations of illegal conduct," the memo said.

The Justice Department announced in March it was investigating accusations that the White House hid e-mail messages subpoenaed by the campaign-finance task force including messages sent to Vice President Al Gore after threatening White House contract workers to keep the documents secret.

Task force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr., according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, wants to know whether subpoenas issued by his office for the e-mail messages were "fully complied with." He also wanted information on whether Northrop Grumman employees were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.

Mr. Conrad said the task force 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."

The matter also is under investigation by independent counsel Robert W. Ray.

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