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White House admits to taping over pre-October 2003 e-mail records

[JURIST] The White House admitted late Tuesday that it had recycled its back-up computer tapes of e-mails prior to October 2003. US Magistrate Judge John Facciola ordered [PDF text; JURIST report] the White House earlier this month to report whether e-mails deleted from its servers in fact existed on back-up tapes. White House Office of Administration Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton admitted [sworn statement, PDF] that the White House had destroyed back-up copies of e-mails before October 2003 and only started retaining back-ups at that point. In November 2007, US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy ordered [JURIST report] the White House to preserve all of its e-mail records by saving back-up disks after private advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) [advocacy website] requested a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] to stop deletion. In response to Payton's disclosure, CREW said it is now apparent that the White House does not have an effective system [press release] for storing and preserving e-mails and that this failure has likely led to the destruction of over 10 million e-mails. If e-mails were in fact erased, the White House may have violated laws requiring the preservation of documents that fall into the categories of federal or presidential records.

Facciola's order came in advance of a ruling on motions from CREW and the National Security Archive [advocacy website] to expedite discovery to determine what relevant e-mail still exists. The US Department of Justice has been unresponsive about what back-up tapes the White House possesses, although it has said that the White House has maintained all back-up tapes since CREW filed suit. The issue of missing e-mails has been an ongoing controversy in the Bush administration, arising first during the CIA leak investigation, and again last year during controversy over the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archives]. AP has more.

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