Watchdog: White House Lost A Lot More Than 5 Million E-mails

"I will tell you, by the way, that it's way higher than five million. It's more than 10 million," said Anne Weismann, a former Justice Department attorney who now serves as chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Media reports have generally put the number of e-mails the Bush administration is reported to have lost from 2003-2006 at roughly five million. That was the number White House Press Secretary Dana Perino mentioned in an April press conference, when she admitted that millions of e-mails may have disappeared from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) archives.

But Weismann said sources close to Congressional and private investigations of the missing e-mail scandal had informed her that more than twice as many e-mails were unaccounted for by the Bush administration.

CREW and its co-plaintiff the National Security Archive this month secured a temporary restraining order against the EOP that prevents it from destroying all e-mail backup media in its possession. On Nov. 12, a federal judge granted CREW's request for the restraining order, sought as part of the recently consolidated lawsuits brought by CREW and the Archive against the EOP and the National Archives and Records Administration. Both organizations have been at the forefront of a campaign to ensure White House compliance with the Presidential Records and Federal Records Acts, which mandate that executive branch agencies faithfully archive all official correspondence for the public.

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Weismann said the restraining order was "an important first step" in the effort to recover the missing e-mails.

"It's saying that if they have them, they have to preserve them. Because as we argued, even if we win, how can we get an effective release [of the missing e-mail backup tapes]? So it's an important first step," she said.

"Of course, the court's order is limited to copies that were created with the intention of being backups. We also think it would be appropriate to look at other copies that might exist."

But Weismann said there was a very real possibility that all of the records in question had been destroyed.

"I have a sinking fear that the backups we want have been overwritten. Millions of e-mails, gone. Obviously, if they're already destroyed ..." she said, trailing off with the implications hanging in the air.