Justice Dept. Launches Criminal Probe On E-Mails

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The Justice Department has launched a criminal inquiry into the alleged mishandling of White House e-mail correspondence, a probe that also extends into the office of Vice President Al Gore, whose own e-mail was never properly recorded.

"The Department of Justice ... has undertaken a criminal inquiry of this matter," attorneys representing the White House said in documents filed with US district court on Wednesday.

In those documents, Robert Conrad, chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, said investigators had recently learned that the White House's record-keeping system had for some time failed to capture e-mails sent from external computers, and that some of the messages may have been related to ongoing probes, including the Justice Department's own investigation into 1996 Clinton-Gore fundraising.

In testimony before a congressional committee Thursday, some of the contractors hired to work on the White House computer system testified that thousands of subpoenaed White House e-mails were never produced, first because of a computer glitch, and then - when the glitch was discovered -- because of an apparent attempt to cover up what had happened. (Read about Thursday's testimony).

According to Thursday's testimony, those e-mails may have been relevant to various ongoing investigations into campaign fundraising, "Filegate," and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

As part of a congressional inquiry conducted Thursday, White House counsel Beth Nolan testified about a much bigger problem: She said many e-mails to and from Vice President Al Gore and his staff were never properly recorded - a problem dating back to 1994!

That means the Gore correspondence was never reviewed to see if the documents shed any light on alleged Clinton-Gore fundraising abuses. According to Thursday's testimony, the problems with Al Gore's computer were more serious than the problems that affected computers used by President Clinton's staff.

The Justice Department probe gives renewed energy to Republicans, who are hoping to end what they call an era of scandal.

Campaigning in Florida, Republican presidential contender George W. Bush indicated that he'll make this a campaign issue. "There needs to be a controlling legal authority in the White House," he said, referring to a now-famous statement by Gore. (At one point during the government probe into his fund-raising activities, Gore insisted there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his efforts to raise "soft money.")

Bush said, "The best campaign finance reform starts with having an administration that will adhere to the law and an Attorney General who will enforce the law. I look forward to seeing where these e-mails are and what was in these e-mails," Bush said, reflecting the sentiments of many Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The Washington Times put the story of the "hidden" White House e-mails in its headlines last month, and since then, it has filed several follow-up reports. On Friday, several other major newspapers finally caught up. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post played the story of the White House e-mails on page one Friday - their first mentions of the case that is now under criminal investigation.