WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The White House has told Congress that a year's worth of e-mails for Vice President Al Gore and his staff were never stored on backup tapes, adding a new twist to the case of missing computer messages.
Republican congressional investigators say they fear the e-mails are lost forever, although presidential aides continue to search to see if the messages were captured elsewhere.
Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said Thursday he has information that Gore was alerted to the problem more than a year ago.
``This is just the latest outrage'' in the saga of White House e-mail that wasn't stored in computer archives, said Burton, R-Ind.
A White House lawyer informed Burton's committee this week that vice presidential e-mails from March 1998 through April 1999 â€” a period that included the president's impeachment trial â€” were never backed up on tapes.
Congress has been investigating why the White House failed to archive and review thousands of e-mails to determine if they should have been turned over under subpeona to investigations ranging from fund-raising to Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky.
Federal prosecutors are also reviewing the matter.
According to Burton, a witness recently told the committee she wrote Gore a memo at the vice president's request in April 1999 about e-mail in his office not being properly archived.
Burton's request for the memo ``has led us to discover that'' an ``error apparently prevented e-mail on the OVP server from being backed up from the end of March 1998 through early April 1999,'' White House lawyer Steve Reich wrote in a letter to the congressional committee. OVP stands for Office of the Vice President.
Reich said that the White House has been unable to find any memo by the witness to Gore on the e-mail archiving problem.
Recounting the controversy over missing White House e-mails, Burton complained that ``first the White House counsel certified that we had all documents responsive to our subpoenas. Then the White House led us to believe that all the missing e-mails had been saved on thousands of back-up tapes. Now we learn that not even that is true.''
Reich said the White House is cooperating fully to respond as quickly as possible to Burton's requests.
Computer contractors failed to schedule a back-up of the computer ``E'' drive in the vice president's office. However, some of the e-mails may be avilable from any paper copies that staffers kept and any messages staffers stored on their individual computers. Some of the e-mails also may be available on back-up tapes made on the main White House computer system.
White House computer problems that resulted in missing e-mails were uncovered early this year in a lawsuit filed by a conservative group, Judicial Watch. White House computer technicians had known of the problem since 1998. But the White House counsel's office has said it didn't realize the problems were causing its production of documents for various investigations to be incomplete.
In a March 28 interview with The Associated Press, Gore waved off the issue of missing White House e-mails as a red herring inspired by Republicans.
The vice president said he didn't know how much e-mail he'd written, ``but whatever is there will be disclosed â€” fully and completely.''
The e-mail system in Gore's office is separate from the main White House computer system, where an e-mail archiving problem has led to missing message traffic for a period of over two years starting in August 1996.