[JURIST] A federal judge on Monday issued an order [PDF text] permitting the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) [advocacy website] to conduct "very limited" discovery in its case against the White House Office of Administration (OA) [official website], the government office that provides administrative services to the Executive Office of the President. CREW filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; case materials] against the OA last May under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to force the OA to respond to CREW's FOIA request for "documents relating to the loss of email records of the Executive Office of the President from EOP-managed email systems and environments." Though the OA has responded to FOIA requests in the past, the administration argued in this case that the OA is not an agency under the meaning of FOIA [JURIST report] and that it is not independent of the executive branch. On Monday, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly permitted CREW to conduct "very limited" discovery on the issue of whether the OA is subject to FOIA. The parties will submit discovery plans by February 21.
The issue of missing e-mails has been an ongoing controversy throughout the Bush administration, arising first during the CIA leak investigation and again during the US Attorney firing scandal [JURIST news archives]. Last Tuesday, CREW urged US Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel [JURIST report] to investigate whether the White House had violated the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act [texts] in failing to preserve millions of missing White House e-mails. CREW has publicly alleged that White House officials may have deliberately lost or tampered with e-mail records to hide illegal conduct. AP has more.