FBI Probe, More Scrutiny Sought Over White House E-mail

The flap continues over missing White House e-mails, with a watchdog group calling for an FBI investigation while a second organization seeks to have the White House’s CIO face more questions about the office’s data loss and archival procedures.

Yesterday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the FBI to investigate whether officials obstructed justice by allegedly destroying documents related to the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity.

The group said in a statement that it believes the e-mails could prove relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation surrounding the spy’s outing.

“There is now credible evidence that someone in the White House may have obstructed justice by destroying documents related to the leak of Ms. Wilson’s identity,” Anne Weismann, CREW’s chief counsel, said in a statement. “Confronted with this evidence, the FBI, as the nation’s top law enforcement authority, has an obligation to investigate.”

CREW spokespeople were not available for further comment by press time.

Also yesterday, the National Security Archive followed suit. The non-governmental research institute and records repository, which is located at George Washington University, called for a closer examination into the White House’s apparent loss of e-mails.

In a motion filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Archive claimed a recent deposition by White House CIO Theresa Payton differs dramatically from testimony she gave before a congressional committee in January.

Singling out Payton marks the latest effort by the Archive to determine the data loss’s severity and to ensure proper backup measures have been put in place.

The group has said it believes millions of e-mails are missing and that current files are in danger of being lost due to inadequate backup and archival processes.

“The goal is also to protect the records — we want to remind the court that everything is still at risk,” Meredith Fuchs, the Archive’s general counsel, told InternetNews.com. “The longer we wait, the more harm can come.”

In its filing yesterday, the Archive said Payton’s testimony before the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee contradicted sworn statements she later provided to the court.

The discrepancies, Archive spokespeople said, raise questions about the White House’s document retention policies and security.

For instance, Archive spokespeople said Payton told the court that “substantially all” of the e-mails should be saved on backup tapes. Yet White House IT workers — searching for e-mails relating to the Plame investigation — said earlier they could not find them on the backup tapes.

Payton did not return requests for comment by press time.

“We want the court to know what was learned from the committee testimony and that the deposition may not have been fulsome,” Fuchs said.

Further inconsistencies arose when White House IT staff testified before the committee that the office has allegedly been recycling e-mail backup tapes for five years, instead of saving the data, Fuchs said.

The White House Office of Administration has sought to dismiss the legal actions, with some officials saying the missing e-mails may be recoverable.

This week’s moves follow on the heels of lawsuits filed earlier this year by both CREW and the Archive seeking to determine whether White House e-mails were properly saved and archived.

Additionally, CREW in early February called for the U.S. Attorney General’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. According to CREW, the AG’s office responded to the request by suggesting the group contact the FBI.

It’s unclear how the court or the FBI may choose to act on the recommendations from either CREW or the Archive.

“The court is also reviewing its decisions on other related issues with the case but I’m hoping the judge will read our motion and be angry and want answers,” she said.

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