Subpoenas issues in White House e-mail case

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

WASHINGTON - Independent Counsel Robert Ray has issued a grand jury subpoena to the National Archives to determine whether White House officials tried to obstruct investigations ranging from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky by not turning over e-mail, officials said.

The move injects Ray into the latest Clinton administration controversy when his office is trying to wrap up a six-year investigation and decide whether the president should be indicted when he leaves office.

Ray's office issued the subpoena last Tuesday to the archives, the government's official recordkeeper, which has advised the White House on archiving its electronic mail.

The independent counsel's office also is conducting interviews of witnesses in the e-mail controversy jointly with the Justice Department's campaign fund-raising task force, government officials told The Associated Press today.

Both investigative agencies are trying to determine why the White House failed to review thousands of e-mails to see if they were responsive to subpoenas issued in various Clinton-administration investigations, the officials said.

The White House has blamed a computer glitch and says there was no effort to hide the e-mail from investigators. It acknowledges, however, that two top officials knew about the problem as early as 1998.

The archives says it will comply with Ray's subpoena.

``The National Archives received a grand jury subpoena from the independent counsel relating to recordkeeping practices in the executive office of the president and intends to comply as required,'' archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said.

Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the National Archives advises White House employees about managing presidential records but does not take full custody of such records until a president leaves office.

Government officials outside the prosecutor's office who are familiar with Ray's subpoena said it sought records that might shed light on which administration officials knew about the missing e-mail, when they knew it and whether any of them were relevant to investigations under Ray's jurisdiction such as Whitewater, the White House travel office firings and the Lewinsky case.

Neille Mallon Russell, a spokeswoman for Ray's office, declined comment on the subpoena. Ray succeeded former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr last year.

White House officials say it may take months to review the problem and determine if e-mail can be retrieved for investigators.

``We continue to work hard to reconstruct and search the backup tapes and produce any relevant information,'' White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said today. ``But I don't have immediate comment on that subpoena. We've been very clear about the fact that we are cooperating fully with Congress and others who have an interest in this case.''

Campaign officials for Vice President Al Gore, who is joining Clinton in New York for a fund-raiser, referred inquiries to the White House counsel's office.

In addition to Ray, the Justice Department task force on fund-raising abuses and the House Government Reform Committee are investigating the missing e-mail. The task force and Ray's office are conducting some of the interviews jointly for efficiency's sake, officials said.

Because the electronic messages were not stored properly, they were not reviewed by White House lawyers to determine if they should be turned over to various investigators who requested or subpoenaed them.

White House Counsel Beth Nolan has told the House committee that as early as 1998, when several of the investigations were still active, both then-White House deputy chief of staff John Podesta and then-White House Counsel Charles Ruff were informed about the e-mail problems.

But Nolan said there was a ``disconnect'' inside the White House in which technical experts understood the magnitude of the problem but presidential lawyers did not suspect it affected ongoing investigations.

At least two White House contractors have told Congress they were threatened not to divulge the e-mail problem.

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