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Judge irate over White House failure to produce missing e-mails

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge, frustrated by what the White House called technical delays in restoring its missing e-mails, said Monday he would remove that responsibility from the White House and decide himself how best to recover the messages.

The e-mails have been long-sought because they might be related to several White House-related investigations, including the Justice Department's campaign finance inquiry involving Vice President Al Gore.

Last month, the White House told U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth that multiple attempts to find the e-mails on back-up tapes proved cumbersome and inefficient. White House lawyers, who said they could reproduce only two tapes per day, told the judge they delayed doing so because the recovery rate was far below their stated goal of 24 to 44 tapes per day.

Lamberth, a Republican appointee to the bench, said it was "preposterous" for the White House to withhold from reproducing small numbers of e-mails because it had not yet developed a system to reproduce large numbers of the missing messages.

He ordered a hearing for later this week.

"By analogy, if the data at issue were in hard-copy rather than computer form, the EOP's [Executive Office of the President] position would essentially be that it need not copy or produce a single document until it could find a copier capable of reproducing large quantities of the documents together," he wrote. "This court cannot accept such a presposterous position."

President Clinton's opponents have repeatedly accused the White House of attempting to delay the production of missing e-mails until after the November election, fearing they could hurt Vice President Gore at the polls.

The White House had assured the judge it would begin recovering the e-mails by June.

"After twenty weeks, the EOP has not made one concrete step towards producing" the missing e-mail, Lamberth said.

Lamberth, who is hearing a lawsuit on behalf of Reagan and Bush administration officials whose FBI background files were found in the Clinton White House, has clashed in the past with the White House. He recently accused Clinton of violating the federal Privacy Act when the president released letters written to him by former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey.

At issue are back-up tapes designed to record all e-mails written by White House employees -- including the president, vice president and first lady. The back-up tapes are needed because e-mails were not properly archived by the White House between August 1996 and November 1998.

The White House recently announced that all of Gore's e-mails from March 1998 to April 1999 are lost and unrecoverable because they were not recorded by the back-up tapes.

The e-mails were subpoenaed as part of several investigations conducted by Congress, the Justice Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel.


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Tuesday, July 11, 2000


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