Report on Missing E-mails Casts Shadow Over Gore

July 7, 2008 - 7:26 PM

2st add: Includes details on Office of the Vice President document access.

(CNSNews.com) - A congressional committee is asking for the appointment of a "special counsel" to investigate the circumstances surrounding hundreds of thousands of missing White House e-mails.

A 140-page report released Thursday by the House Committee on Government Reform stated that "a special counsel is needed to investigate obstruction of justice and perjury charges" against White House and Justice Department lawyers for not correcting what the committee called "false deposition testimony" from an administration computer specialist.

The report also casts a suspicious light on Vice President Al Gore, whose office is accused of configuring the Office of the Vice President e-mail system in such a manner that it "would not store his records in a way that would permit compliance with document requests," according to the report.

"There can be little doubt that the vice president's advisers knew that their actions would permit his office to operate in such a manner that would make it less susceptible to oversight," the report continued.

In fact, a reconstruction of a fraction of the missing e-mails by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed a number of notes indicating that Gore may have known more about the 1996 Buddhist Temple fundraising event than he previously testified to.

One message noted in the committee report stated that the "the vice president was committed to do a fundraising event in Los Angeles on April 29, 1996."

That particular e-mail, dated April 9, 1996, was called "significant" by the committee because there was "no mention of an event at another venue - a direct contradiction of representations that a separate fundraising event had been scheduled and then cancelled at the last minute."

Further complicating matters is that federal law requires that all government records be preserved through the White House Automated Records Management System, otherwise known as ARMS.

The committee report claims that Todd Campbell, a lawyer on Gore's staff, "personally decided that the vice president would not store his records in a way that would permit compliance with document requests," and accuses the Office of the Vice President of "re-inventing government to stay above the law and congressional oversight."

Because so many e-mails were not stored in the ARMS system, the committee concluded that Gore's office "appears to have adopted a prophylactic program to guarantee that fewer documents would exist in the event that document requests were made."

According to the committee report, the White House e-mail system failed to archive correspondence for a 26-month period between September 1996 and November 1998, making it difficult if not impossible for the administration to fully comply with subpoenas and requests for documents in connection with campaign finance investigations and the independent counsel inquiry that culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton.

The significance of the e-mail failure was noted in the report with historic implications. "If senior White House personnel were aware of these problems... then the e-mail matter can fairly be called the most significant obstruction of congressional investigations in US history," the report said.

"Hundreds of thousands of e-mails were never reviewed to comply with subpoenas," said committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) in a statement Thursday. "And I'm not just talking about this committee's subpoenas. I'm talking about Justice Department subpoenas. I'm talking about a court order from a federal judge."

Burton dismissed reactions to the e-mail controversy as a "tempest in a teacup," saying the missing correspondence creates "a documentary trail of events as they unfold. In the computer era that we live in, you can't conduct an investigation without reviewing e-mails."

Among the charges included in the committee report are allegations that White House officials not only threatened private sector workers contracted to find and fix problems with the e-mail system, but also forbid those workers from taking notes on their work and consulting with their supervisors.

At least one employee of Northrop Gumman, the company that worked on the e-mail problem, was threatened by a White House staff member "with jail if he disclosed the existence of the problem," according to the report. Burton's committee said this intimidation resulted in inquiries by Congress and other federal agencies being "obstructed in their legitimate investigations," as well as increasing the taxpayer costs of all the investigations by dragging them out.

White House officials were also accused of showing "disregard for the welfare" of Northrop Grumman staff by not letting them discuss their work on the e-mail system with their supervisors. White House aide Mark Lindsay earlier said he didn't want workers discussing the information "around the water cooler," but the committee concluded that there was "no legitimate reason to keep Northrop Grumman employees from consulting with the superiors."

Read the committee report here.