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Advocacy Groups Win One on White House E-mail

White House e-mail scandal

A U.S. District Court yesterday quashed an effort by the Department of Justice (DoJ) to fight legal action related to missing White House e-mails.

The DoJ, which is representing the White House, had disapproved of the court's previous recommendation on e-mail preservation in the Executive Office of the President (EOP). The court had advised the EOP to search desktops and movable media used between March 2003 and October 2005 for missing e-mails.

Yesterday's decision by Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola is a small victory for two advocacy groups seeking to preserve White House e-mail. It's a minor setback for the DOJ that has consistently fought legal action related to missing e-mails and initiating new preservation processes.

"It remains the Court’s position that every reasonable effort must be made to preserve the historical records that the plaintiffs may establish were required by law to have been preserved," states the court document.

The National Security Archive and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a left-wing advocacy group, filed its lawsuit to determine the extent of missing White House e-mails a year ago.

"The court continues to recognize the true risk to e-mail records in the White House," Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the Archive, told InternetNews.com.

While the groups expect the DoJ to file an objection to yesterday's court ruling, the Archive hopes the court response will bring a swift and final resolution to the legal battle.

Once a new president is sworn in next January, all White House Administration files will be archived, and that could prevent a true e-mail search and retrieval effort, according to the Archive. The White House has already admitted e-mails are missing due to poor archival and backup procedures.

"We are hopeful that the District Judge will promptly issue an order for preservation of e-mails on individual workstations and portable media," Fuchs said.

Lawyers for the DoJ representing the White House have said they will not comment on pending legal action.

In the court decision the judge stated the DoJ's objections that searching would be too costly and time-consuming did not constitute dismissing the recommendation.

Yet the court is not forcing the EOP to fulfill another court recommendation related to making copies of workstations that may house unpreserved e-mails, stating too much time has passed for an effective effort.

The Archive had also requested an expedited discovery process, which the court also is not recommending. Yet the Archive isn't too upset with those determinations, as it views the court action as helping it get closer to "ensuring that the documentary history of this administration is not forever lost," according to an Archive press statement.