A U.S. District Court today ruled that documents relating to missing White House e-mails do not fall under Freedom of Information (FOI) access, as the White House Office of Administration (OA) is not a federal agency.
The OA serves as administrator of the Executive Office of the President (EOP)’s computer environment and technology platforms, and is the record keeper of documents relating to e-mail preservation and archival procedures.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), said the decision is “significant” because the OA documents could be put into presidential archives once a new administration takes office and not available for several years.
CREW immediately appealed the ruling by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C.
The left-wing public-advocacy group filed for court relief in May 2007 to access documents tied to an OA investigation into e-mail backup and preservation processes.
“We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated in a release today.
Today’s ruling is not part of a separate lawsuit CREW and the National Security Archive filed last year against the EOP in a quest to preserve email and determine what emails are missing from White House servers.
Yet today’s decision could potentially impact that lawsuit outcome, according to the National Security Archive.
“The government might take the position that this decision has implications for our suit, and we would take the opposite position,” Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the Archive, told InternetNews.com.
In April 2007 CREW filed an FOI request to gain documents related to an OA analysis about missing White House e-mails, according to Weismann.
While the OA initially provided a smattering of documents, it also withheld thousands of pages. Yet the two groups moved forward to work out a timetable for document access going into the summer.
“We had negotiated with them but had to reach to the court for help when documents weren’t forthcoming,” Weismann explained. In response, the OA filed a court brief stating it did not fall under FOI guidelines and was not required to provide any further documents.
In the other legal action, CREW and the Archive are awaiting a court decision on several issues ranging from extending an e-mail preservation order to mandating that the EOP confiscate mobile storage devices that could house e-mail from the time frame of March 2003 to October 2005. The court’s decision did not indicate a specific time frame.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has vigorously opposed those efforts, saying such actions aren’t necessary and that recommendations to boost e-mail protection would prove onerous.
The EOP has previously admitted that three months of data at the heart of the lawsuit are missing from its backup tapes.