Encyclopedia Bush and the Case of the Missing Emails

Published on January 15, 2009
by John Paczkowski

In six days, the Bush Administration will take its leave of the White House. But before departing, it must surrender any device or media that might contain those infamous five million missing email messages from between March 2003 and October 2005–messages that covered a period including the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

In a blistering emergency court order, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola–who has clearly lost all patience with the current administration–directed the Executive Office of the President to preserve every workstation and mobile device, every hard drive, memory stick, CD and DVD “that may contain emails sent or received” between March 2003 and October 2005–irrespective of the intent with which it was created.

In Facciola’s eyes, not only has the administration failed in its obligation to safeguard all electronic messages, it has willfully ignored a court’s instructions to search a full range of locations for all electronic messages that may be missing. “The records at issue are not paper records that can be stored, but electronically stored information that can be deleted with a keystroke,” Facciola wrote. “Additionally, I have no way of knowing what happens to computers and to hard drives in them when one administration replaces another.”

“I have always begun with the premise that…the e-mails that are said to be missing are the very heart of this lawsuit and there is a profound societal interest in their preservation,” Facciola continued. “They are, after all, the most fundamental and useful contemporary records of the recent history of the President’s office. If Napoleon was right when he said that he did not care who wrote France’s laws if he could write its history, then the importance of preserving the e-mails cannot be exaggerated.”


Groups seeking to preserve the emails at issue here applauded the court order. “There is nothing like a deadline to clarify the issues,” said National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton. “In six days the Bush Executive Office of the President will be gone and without this order, their records may disappear with them. The White House will complain about the last-minute challenge, but this is a records crisis of the White House’s own making.”


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