Jabs Traded Ahead of White House E-mail Ruling

The Department of Justice (DOJ) isn’t backing down in its last legal thrust to thwart the expansion of court order to preserve White House e-mail.

The DOJ, representing the Executive Office of the President (EOP), said in a filing this week that such action isn’t necessary and that court recommendations to expand protections for White House e-mail would prove onerous to implement.

In its court filing in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., the DOJ also claimed that the two advocacy groups now suing the EOP over lost or improperly stored e-mails failed to show legitimate reasons for extending e-mail protection efforts.

The DOJ also said the requests for new efforts to safeguard White House e-mail would be costly to put into practice.

“The burdens that would be imposed by the recommendations are impermissibly high; the public interest would be ill-served by wasting taxpayer funds on multiply-redundant data preservation and by diverting time and resources from the EOP defendants’ other pressing tasks,” DOJ attorneys wrote in the filing.

It’s likely to be the final shot before a judge decides on several issues in a case that has pitted the EOP against the two groups, the nongovernmental research institute National Security Archive and liberal advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Both sides now all now await a decision on several issues. The results could range from extending the preservation order to making the EOP confiscate mobile storage devices that could house e-mail from the time frame during which groups’ lawsuits claim e-mails were not archived properly — March 2003 to October 2005.

There is no specific time frame for the court’s decision to be handed down.

Archive counsel Meredith Fuchs was not available for comment. Calls to the DOJ were not returned by press time. A spokesperson has stated previously that the White House would not comment on ongoing litigation.

The National Security Archive and CREW initiated the court battle a year ago to determine whether EOP e-mails and backup tapes were properly archived during the period.

Earlier this month, the EOP admitted that three months of data at the heart of the lawsuit are missing from its backup tapes.

In April, Judge John Facciola ordered the EOP to determine the cost for using forensic technology to recover potentially deleted e-mail. He also ordered the office to provide data on how many current White House employees were present between March 2003 and October 2005, and how many hard drives in use today were used in that same period.

The court also recommended a search of current and older White House workstations and Microsoft Outlook .PST files for e-mails linked to individuals employed during the time frame. Additionally, it suggested EOP employees relinquish backup media that contain e-mails sent or received during the time frame.

But DOJ lawyers fired back at the recommendations, reiterating the Bush Administration’s claim that retrieving lost e-mails would prove unworkable and would impose “significant burdens” on the EOP while hindering its duties.

It was the same response the DOJ gave in March when initially ordered to stipulate why the White House could not conduct forensic copying technologies to preserve e-mail files during the litigation process.

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