White House Lost and Found: E-Mails and Phone Logs
Rodriguez, Paul M., Insight on the News
The Insight story about the "lost" White House e-mails has resurfaced in the news. Now, congressional and federal investigators are hot on the trail of an estimated 100,000 electronic notes, but those same sleuths ought to be looking for the thousands of pages of White House telephone records also "found" but ignored.
In December 1998 and January 1999 this magazine reported on the existence of the previously unknown White House e-mails accidentally turned up by a subcontractor (see "Trove of `Lost' E-Mails at White House," Dec. 28, 1998, and "Former Aide Fights White House on Abuse," Jan. 3). When informed of the discovery of the e-mails, including missives from Monica Lewinsky and many others, White House officials flew into a panic and quickly put a clamp on the revelation by effectively classifying the information. So secret was the existence of this smoking howitzer that the White House dubbed all work on it "Project X."
Contractors were instructed to remain silent under penalty of law and an effort was undertaken to reconstruct the e-mails to determine how they compared with messages on other White House computers and whether the newly discovered electronic evidence had been subpoenaed and, if so, what vestiges of other copies might have been turned over to scandal investigators.
A White House official told us in 1998 that, yes, it appeared that some of the Project X e-mails were duplicates but that others were new and/or unknown. The refrain "We'll get back to you" was played out with finesse, as were assurances Congress would look into the discovery.
Specifically, Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, promised they'd look into the news alert! scoop and, well, would get back to us. That was two years ago.
Fast forward to mid-February 2000 and a Washington Times story on the same lost e-mails. Suddenly, in a Postimpeachment atmosphere, and amid a hot campaign season, Burton, Thompson and federal investigators again were promising to go after those electronic messages. Joe Lockhart, the adroit White House spokesman, tried to get by with labeling the story old news, reminding the world that Insight had broken it in 1998 -- and, besides, everything requested by the various investigators had been turned over long ago. Even President Clinton sang that refrain.
But hold on: news alert! has learned that despite Insight's clear expose, neither the Congress, the Justice Department Campaign Task Force nor the various independent counsels ever sought to obtain the telltale e-mails. …