WASHINGTON — The White House first promised to finish searching
hundreds of thousands of unarchived e-mails under subpoena before the
election. Then it was by Thanksgiving. Now it can’t be sure.
“The restoration project is still in too early and evolutionary a
stage for … anyone … to meaningfully estimate a completion time,”
Justice Department lawyers said in their latest brief to a U.S. District
Court hearing discovery arguments in the so-called “Filegate” case.
Judicial Watch Inc., a Washington, D.C., public-interest law firm, is
suing the White House on behalf of several plaintiffs who claim the
White House violated their privacy in ordering up their FBI background
files. The suit seeks $90 million in damages.
“It is important to remember that this restoration project is highly
technical, and highly unpredictable,” Justice lawyers, who are defending
the White House, explained in their long, June 2 brief reviewed by
“The process could be subject to a number of foreseeable delays, such
as tape breakage and equipment failure, or unforeseeable delays, such as
changes in the project requirements,” they warned.
Last month, White House Counsel Beth Nolan promised Congress, also
waiting for the e-mails, that they would be searched by the end of June
and that the first batch would be produced shortly thereafter.
But the White House, which hired two computer contractors months ago
to start the project, now says it hasn’t even started copying back-up
tapes containing the e-mail.
“The goal is to begin copying tapes by the end of June,” the brief
The White House maintains it must first copy thousands of back-up
tapes containing the e-mails to protect the original tapes from damage.
And it has to buy more “hardware” to do that.
Then contractors will be ready to search the tapes for information
relevant to ongoing investigations.
Well, not quite.
Before the tapes can be loaded into a database to be searched, the
White House says it has to “eliminate duplicate e-mails.”
Then it will be ready … barring any “equipment breakdowns,” that
“There remain a number of as-yet unresolved technical issues,” the
court brief said, putting an even finer point on it.
Not buying the White House’s timetable, Judicial Watch Chairman Larry
Klayman has asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to appoint a
“special master” to monitor the search project.
No need, the White House says. It’s hired its own “independent
Enter Vistronix Inc. The Vienna, Va.-based computer consultant joins
contractors ECS Technologies and SRA International on the project, which
will now cost $10 million, up from the original estimate of $3 million.
The 15-employee Vistronix, owned by Deepak Hathiramani, says it’s
already consulted with “law enforcement authorities interested in the
The independent counsel and Justice’s campaign finance task force,
besides subpoenaing the e-mail, are both investigating a possible
cover-up involving the unarchived e-mail, which was known inside the
White House as “Project X.” Three computer contractors swear White House
officials threatened them with jail if they talked about the 1996-1998
records gap involving at least 246,083 e-mails sent to mainly West Wing
The White House’s lawyers had Vistronix’s project manager swear in a
court affidavit that the White House has not been delaying the search on
“I have neither observed, nor has it been reported to me, that there
have been any unnecessary delays in the development or implementation of
technical solutions to the problem,” said Vistronix’s Greg Ekberg.