White House Is Retrieving E-Mails

Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — New and reliable equipment is helping the White House reassemble thousands of missing and once-thought irretrievable e-mails sought in a civil lawsuit against the Clinton administration, a computer technician testified.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who was hearing a second day of testimony Friday, must determine how to get the messages to investigators in the case brought by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch.

He could appoint a special master to oversee production of the e-mails or order a company to perform the reconstruction. He also could let the White House proceed with the job.

Terrence Misich, an Army chief warrant officer who is overseeing the project, testified Thursday that a searchable database of the e-mails should be ready in four to six weeks. He blamed earlier delays on poor copier systems.

Also Thursday, two former White House computer consultants said workers could have retrieved the lost e-mails in a matter of months if the White House had committed enough resources.

White House officials earlier this year said thousands of e-mails, including some from Vice President Al Gore's office, were not properly archived and were lost because of a computer glitch.

As a result, the messages were never reviewed by White House lawyers to determine if they should be turned over to investigators under subpoena in cases ranging from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Whitewater to campaign fund raising.

Misich said that despite months of work, technicians could not reliably retrieve the e-mails until now because they could not find the proper equipment to do the job.

Former White House computer worker Sheryl Hall, testifying on Judicial Watch's behalf, estimated it would take about four months to six months for about five workers to restore the thousands of lost e-mails. She said workers could have begun producing the files in a matter of days, given the proper tools.

Betty Lambuth, a second former computer consultant, testified that the job would take as long as four months.

Because of an apparent programming error, incoming e-mail messages dating back to August 1996 were not searched in response to subpoenas by the Justice Department and congressional investigators.

Congress, Independent Counsel Robert Ray and the Justice Department are investigating whether the e-mail problem was an innocent mistake, as the White House contends, or part of an effort to obstruct their investigations into the Lewinsky scandal and the White House's gathering of the FBI files of past Republican appointees.

The White House denies any wrongdoing.

House Republicans say the White House has dragged its feet in solving the problem and threatened technicians who revealed the glitch.

Judicial Watch attorney Larry Klayman, who argued the case, told Lamberth that the White House may have intentionally hired consultants with little expertise in restoring the data in order to delay the investigation.

The court hearing took place as Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., urged White House counsel Beth Nolan and Attorney General Janet Reno to support appointment of an outside expert to supervise the e-mail effort.

Burton said the House Government Reform Committee, which he heads, ``has no confidence that the White House will satisfy its obligations to produce information in a timely fashion.''