A federal record watchdog organization Wednesday sued the White House in a U.S. district court, seeking the restoration of some 5 million lost emails and a reactivation of the administration's email archiving system.
The National Security Archive, an independent, non-governmental organization based at George Washington University, is the same organization that filed successful lawsuits forcing the White House to preserve about 30 million messages from the 1980s and 1990s. It maintains that emails from the White House and other government agencies are federal records and should be preserved as such.
In its lawsuit, the Archive alleges that the Executive Office of the President in 2002 abandoned an electronic records management system that had been put in place during the Clinton administration. It cites a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which states that more than 5 million email messages are missing from White House servers.
White House spokespeople on several occasions have acknowledged that the emails are missing. In April, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino suggested that the problem occurred when the White House made a switchover from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange, and that "there was no intent to have lost them."
"I think there are backup tapes," Perino stated in April. "There should be."
So far, however, the White House has made no moves to recover the lost emails, and its inactivity spurred the National Security Archive to file its suit.
"The Bush White House broke the law and erased our history by deleting those email messages," said Archive director Tom Blanton. "The period of the missing email starts with the invasion of Iraq and runs through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."
"Without court oversight, there's no guarantee that the White House will ever recover the missing emails or install an effective archiving system," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel for the Archive.
Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.