Today’s Must Read

January 18, 2008 8:45 am

Sometimes it’s just too easy.

For months, the White House has battling the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in court. The accusation is pretty straightforward: for more than a year between 2003 and 2005, the White House failed to archive emails, and the group had learned that as many as five million emails were lost as a result. The White House is required by law to retain them. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded that there had been a tech glitch: you know, we were transferring from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook and… oops:

Again, I wouldn’t rule out that there were a potential 5 million emails lost, but we’ll see if we can get to you. If it was 5 million, I think that, again, out of 1,700 people using email every day, again, there was no intent to have lost them.

As the months have worn on, the White House has mounted a much more belligerent response in court. But the decisions — and the headlines — have repeatedly gone against them to the point now where it’s apparent that not only did they lose the emails, but they copied over the backup tapes as well.

Nevertheless, White House spokesman Tony Fratto sees no reason for contrition. He’s a flack in the proud Bush tradition of Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow, and if there’s a single tenet to that order, it’s that you do not have to admit anything that is the result of deduction. Sure, common sense dictates that if emails have not been archived, and the backup tapes that would have recorded them have been recycled, then those emails are gone forever. But show me the missing emails, Fratto says:

Q Tony, on the subject, could you address the missing White House emails and the law suit? It is a subject of reports this morning. Are there in fact the emails missing? What’s the likelihood of their recovery versus the —

MR. FRATTO: I think our review of this, and you saw the court filing on this, and our declaration in response to the judge’s questions — I think to the best of what all the analysis we’ve been able to do, we have absolutely no reason to believe that any emails are missing; there’s no evidence of that….

Q So where are they?

MR. FRATTO: Where are what?

Q Where are part of —

MR. FRATTO: Which email? Look, no one will tell you categorically about any system — any system, whether it’s your system at Bloomberg or our system here at the White House, past and present, categorically that data cannot be missing…. We have no reason to believe that there’s any data missing at all — and we’ve certainly found no evidence of any data missing.

Of course, now House sleuth Henry Waxman is getting into the act and plans to hold a hearing . So things are going to get worse for the White House before they get better. But nobody can deny their tenacity.

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