Federal Magistrate Tells White to Cough Up E-Mails

Charles Davis
February 8, 2008 — 1,097 views  
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A federal magistrate ordered the White House on Tuesday to reveal whether copies of possibly millions of missing e-mails are stored on computer backup tapes.

The order by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola comes amid an effort by the White House to scuttle two lawsuits that could force the Executive Office of the President to recover any e-mail that has disappeared from computer servers where electronic documents are automatically archived.

Two federal laws require the White House to preserve all records including e-mail.

Facciola gave the White House five business days to report whether computer backup tapes contain e-mails written between 2003 and 2005.

The time period covers the Valerie Plame affair in which at least three presidential aides were found to have leaked Plame's CIA identity to the news media.

"Do the back-ups contain the e-mails said to be missing?" Facciola asked.

In a four-page order, Facciola said he needs to know "if the missing e-mails are not on those back-ups."

Facciola noted the importance of acting quickly since e-mails that might be retrievable from individual computer workstations in the White House "are increasingly likely to be deleted or overwritten with the passage of time."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined comment while reviewing the magistrate's order. In the past, the White House has said there could have been some e-mails that were not automatically archived because of a technical issue.

Charles Davis

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Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.