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Rove Didn't Intentionally Delete E-Mails Sought In Prosecutors Firing Probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Karl Rove's lawyer on Friday dismissed the notion that President Bush's chief political adviser intentionally deleted his own e-mails from a Republican-sponsored server, saying Rove believed the communications were being preserved in accordance with the law.

The issue arose because the White House and Republican National Committee have said they may have lost e-mails from Rove and other administration officials. Democratically chaired congressional committees want those e-mails for their probe of the firings of eight federal prosecutors.

``His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived,'' Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said.

The prosecutor probing the Valerie Plame spy case saw and copied all of Rove's e-mails from his various accounts after searching Rove's laptop, his home computer, and the handheld computer devices he used for both the White House and Republican National Committee, Luskin said.

The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, subpoenaed the e-mails from the White House, the RNC and Bush's re-election campaign, he added.

``There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record,'' Luskin said.

Any e-mails Rove deleted were the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly, Luskin said. He said Rove had no idea the e-mails were being deleted from the server, a central computer that managed the e-mail.

On Thursday, one Democratic committee chairman said his understanding was that the RNC believed Rove might have been deleting his e-mails and in 2005 took action to preserve them in accordance with the law and pending legal action.

The mystery of the missing e-mails is just one part of a furor over the firings of eight federal prosecutors that has threatened Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job and thrown his Justice Department into turmoil.

For now, Bush is standing by his longtime friend from Texas, who has spent weeks huddled in his fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department preparing to tell his story to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

New documents released Friday by the Justice Department may shed additional light, but their release prompted Gonzales' one-time chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to postpone a closed-door interview with congressional investigators.

The missing e-mails posed some of the weightiest questions of a sprawling political and legal conflict between the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress.

Democrats are questioning whether any White House officials purposely sent e-mails about official business on the RNC server _ then deleted them, in violation of the law _ to avoid scrutiny.

White House officials say they can't rule that out, but that the administration is making an honest and aggressive effort to recover anything that was lost. ``We have no indications that there was improper intent when using these RNC e-mails,'' spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Luskin said Rove didn't know that deleting e-mails from his RNC inbox also deleted them from the RNC's server. That system was changed in 2005.

Rove voluntarily allowed investigators in the Plame case to review his laptop and copy the entire hard drive, from which investigators could have recovered even deleted e-mails, Luskin said.

As the investigation was winding down, Luskin said, prosecutors came to his office and reviewed all the documents _ including e-mails _ he had collected to be sure both sides a complete set.

Luskin said he has not heard from Fitzgerald's office and said that, if Fitzgerald believed any e-mails were destroyed, he would have called. Fitzgerald's office declined comment.

The White House did not immediately respond to Luskin's comments.

A lawyer for the RNC told congressional investigators that the RNC may be able to recover some of those e-mails sent from August 2004 on. That's when the RNC put a hold on an automatic purge policy.

The RNC lawyer, Rob Kelner, also said that the Republican committee has none of Rove's e-mails on its server prior to 2005, possibly because Rove deleted them, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Sometime in 2005, the RNC took action solely to prevent Rove from deleting his e-mails on that server. One reason for specifying Rove, Waxman said, appears to have been pending legal action against him.

It was unclear, Waxman said, whether the RNC had or would be able to recover e-mails written by any White House officials, including Rove, and sent on the committee's account.

The White House and RNC said they are taking action to recover as many lost e-mails as possible. Some 50 past and current White House aides had the RNC accounts, according to the administration, to avoid using government resources to conduct political business.

Separately, the White House was also confronted with unrelated questions about the possible loss of e-mails from aides' government accounts.

Perino said she could not rule out that millions of White House e-mails could have been lost when staffers' accounts were converted over to Microsoft Outlook from Lotus Notes. It was a rolling process that took place in the first couple of years of the administration, she said.

``I wouldn't rule out that there were a potential 5 million e-mails lost,'' she said. ``There was no intent to have lost them.''
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