Justice Department: Independent counsel already investigating e-mail matter
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Responding to a demand by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) that a special counsel be appointed to investigate missing White House electronic mail, the Justice Department said late Monday that Independent Counsel Robert Ray is already looking into issues raised by the matter.
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin did not flatly reject Burton's request, but said the questions Burton is raising are already being studied by an outside investigator. The Indiana Republican is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing on the matter of the missing e-mail last week.
"The independent counsel has an investigation into the pending allegations as does the Justice Campaign Finance Task Force, but we're currently reviewing the committee's letter to see if yet another investigator is needed," Marlin said.
The task force has been investigating whether the White House has obstructed justice in the way it has handled thousands of missing White House e-mail messages -- many of them involving Vice President Al Gore -- that may have escaped the reach of a congressional subpoena.
Marlin cited a court filing last week by Robert Conrad, head of the Justice Campaign Finance Task Force that said Ray, the successor to former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, was conducting an "investigation of the pending allegations."
Both the independent counsel and the Justice Department's task force called for a halt to potentially conflicting efforts by the department's civil attorneys who represent the Executive Office of the President.
In a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Burton wrote that the Justice Department is both investigating the issue and defending its conduct in the matter.
"Ms. Reno, you cannot use the Campaign Financing Task Force supervised by yourself to investigate yourself and the Justice Department [Civil Division] lawyers who helped keep the e-mails from being produced to Congress, Independent Counsels, and your own Campaign Financing Task Force," Burton wrote.
Burton's committee is tentatively planning another hearing for Thursday. The invited guest is White House Counsel Beth Nolan, whose opening statement was submitted to the committee in proceedings last week.
The e-mail issue arose from a problem in the White House's automated record management system -- known as ARMS -- which resulted in the improper scanning, logging and archiving of incoming, external e-mails to nearly 500 White House personnel, many of them high-ranking.
Those e-mails subsequently were not handed over in response to subpoenas by Congress, the Office of Independent Counsel or the Justice Department.
The e-mails, which some have estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, may pertain to ongoing investigations by Congress, the Office of Independent Counsel and the Justice Department, and may have included information regarding former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, as well as campaign finance matters that may involve Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. The White House has turned over more than 7,000 pieces of e-mail in response to subpoenas in those matters.
Last week, three Northrop Grumman contract employees charged with operating the e-mail system testified at a Government Reform Committee hearing that White House officials Mark Lindsay and Linda Callahan had threatened to have them jailed if the problem was disclosed. The employees said the problem was technical in nature, but the White House nonetheless wanted to keep it a secret.
Lindsay and Callahan acknowledged last week that they asked contract staffers not to discuss the computer problems, but rejected claims that those staffers had been threatened.
Most of those who testified last week said they did not believe the problem was actually caused by the White House, nor did the White House tell them to destroy any e-mails.
The technical problem was not made public until last month, when Robert Haas, one of the Northrop Grumman employees, accused White House staff of a coverup in a lawsuit filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which has filed a number of lawsuits against the Clinton White House.