Congress Begins Inquiry Into White House E-Mails

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

( - The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing Thursday to determine whether the White House tried to cover up thousands of e-mails subpoenaed by - but never surrendered to - a federal grand jury and three congressional committees.

The e-mails, as many as 100,000 according to some sources, reportedly contain information on "Filegate," campaign finance abuses, "Chinagate," and Monica Lewinsky.

Although White House staffers conducted a search for the subpoenaed documents, a computer glitch prevented many pertinent e-mails from showing up. It's what happened later -- after the White House was told about the computer glitch -- that the congressional committee will probe on Thursday.

As part of that effort, the Committee is expected to question White House Counsel Beth Nolan and three other administration officials, along with six Northrop Grumman employees who worked at the White House under a computer contract.

In affidavits filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, the Northrop Grumman employees said they were forced by White House higher-ups to keep silent about their discovery of e-mails that had been subpoenaed but never turned over.

When the Northrop Grumman workers told White House staffers about the computer glitch that resulted in an incomplete search, they allegedly were threatened with reprisals -- being fired or arrested -- if they told anyone else about the problem.

The White House staffers who allegedly threatened them, Mark Lindsay and Laura Crabtree, are among the administration officials expected to testify at Thursday's committee hearing.

Even when the White House e-mails were discovered, they apparently were never surrendered as the various subpoenas demanded. In fact, news reports say that senior administration officials referred to the newly-discovered e-mails as "Project X" and re-labeled them as classified documents to prevent their release.

The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed the Northrop Grumman employees assigned to work at the White House, said Mark Corallo, press secretary to Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). "We have interviewed several of the employees in question and will subpoena them to appear before the committee," Corallo told earlier. "We have found that these people were threatened by the White House."

According to the affidavit filed by Betty Lambuth, one of the Northrop Grumman contractors, the e-mails contain information about a variety Clinton administration controversies, including the Monica Lewinsky affair, the White House request for FBI files, and Vice President Al Gore's involvement in campaign fundraising.

Corallo told that when the computer contractors did a search of the e-mails in 1998 and entered the name Monica Lewinsky "they described to us as finding three reams worth of e-mails just from Monica that she had written to people in the White House." By this time Lewinsky was no longer employed by the White House and had moved to the Pentagon.

"It was certainly a legitimate computer screw-up, and these people find it and it is 1998, the year of Monica Lewinsky, and they go to their White House bosses and tell them there are a couple hundred thousand e-mails out there," said Corallo. "Two things have to be done with the e-mails: One, they have to be archived; that is required by law. Two, you have all these subpoenas out there and they have to be searched for the information being asked."

Rep. Burton wrote to federal district Judge Royce Lamberth two weeks ago, asking him to "secure the integrity of all White House e-mails that have not yet been reviewed. Furthermore, I request that you take all steps available to you to guarantee that these government records are preserved, as required by the Presidential Records Act."

Nearly two weeks ago, Judge Lamberth gave the White House two weeks to produce the subpoenaed-but-never-surrendered e-mails. He said he will "hang" any White House staffers if they erase the e-mail files.

Today's hearing also will focus on Justice Department efforts - or the lack of them - to pursue the missing e-mails. Some committee members believe the Justice Department made no effort to find out if the White House complied with the grand jury and congressional subpoenas, even after the Washington Times reported on the missing e-mails.