WASHINGTON (AP) — An ethics advocacy group asked a federal judge Thursday to order the White House to preserve tapes used to back up its e-mail system.
Asserting that the White House may not have kept copies of e-mails that are at the heart of a dispute over the Bush administration's record-keeping, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a motion asking for a court order to preserve computer backup tapes.
"The White House is refusing to confirm that they have maintained e-mail going back to the beginning of the administration as they are required by law to do," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
The group placed on the public record two Justice Department letters stating that the White House is maintaining all backup tapes that were in the possession of the White House Office of Administration as of Sept. 25, 2007, the date CREW sued the Executive Office of the President in the e-mail controversy.
The private group asked the Justice Department for information about what backup tapes were in the White House's possession, but the Justice Department has not provided an explanation.
The possibility that backup tapes may not contain copies of all White House e-mail is a new dimension to the controversy, which first arose in early 2006. CREW alleges that millions of White House e-mails are missing, and that the backup tapes contained the lone remaining copies.
"At present the missing e-mail records exist only on backup tapes and other mediums, if at all," CREW said in its court filing. "Thus, those backup tapes contain the only copies of important historical evidence of this presidency."
CREW is entitled to a temporary restraining order to prevent any further document destruction, the group said in its filing with U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy, an appointee of President Clinton.
In the past, the White House has said it is aware that some e-mails may not have been automatically archived on a computer server for the Executive Office of the President and that the e-mails may have been preserved on backup tapes.
In response to the latest court filing, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that because the matter is in court, he is referring to previous White Houses comments on the issue.
The White House has said that its Office of Administration is looking into whether there are e-mails that were not automatically archived and that if there is a problem, the necessary steps will be taken to address it.
The first indication of a problem came in nearly two years ago when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald raised the possibility that records sought in the CIA leak investigation involving the outing of Valerie Plame could be missing because of an e-mail archiving problem at the White House.
The issue arose again this year amid the controversy over the firing of U.S. attorneys. Aides to Bush improperly used Republican Party-sponsored e-mail accounts for official business and an undetermined number of e-mails were lost.