A lawsuit over the preservation of White House e-mails passed a hurdle this week when a federal judge ruled against throwing out the case.
The private National Security Archive and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington are challenging the Bush administration’s failure to recover, restore, and preserve millions of presidential and other e-mails dating back to 2003. The consolidated lawsuit seeks to force the administration to recover missing e-mail and to set up an electronic management system.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs call U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr.’s ruling against the White House a victory in the fight for greater transparency and the preservation of historical records. The ruling allows the public to pursue White House records “before they get carted off or destroyed as the current administration packs its bags to leave,” Jones Day associate Sheila Shadmand, who is representing the National Security Archive, said in a statement.
Justice Department lawyers Helen Hong and Tamra Moore argued, among other things, that a federal district judge cannot order White House officials to retrieve and preserve records. But the plaintiffs are asking for an injunction that would initiate action through the attorney general, Kennedy said in his opinion.
From 1994 to 2002, the Automated Records Management System saved e-mail sent through the White House system. Then White House officials discontinued the use of the system and did not replace it. Hundreds of days of e-mails—potentially millions of e-mails—sent between 2003 and 2005 are reported missing, according to court records.
National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs said in a statement: "Through this lawsuit we have preserved over 65,000 computer backup tapes. This decision means those tapes will survive the end of the Bush Administration so that Congress, the courts, and eventually the public will be able to learn about the decision-making that took place over the last 8 years."