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WASHINGTON — The e-mail records of former Attorney General Janet Reno and her top aides were not electronically archived until late last year, a high-level Justice Department official says, and may be as spotty as those kept by the Clinton White House.

An incomplete archive will likely make it harder for New York prosecutors to investigate the circumstances surrounding former President Clinton’s shady pardon of Marc Rich, legal experts say. Reno’s deputy consulted with lawyers for the millionaire fugitive as early as February 2000.

It would also dim hopes that Congress — or perhaps even Reno’s successor, Attorney General John Ashcroft — can reconstruct the campaign-finance task force’s investigation to see if it has been as “thorough” and “honest” as Reno has claimed.

Several Republican lawmakers have accused Reno of protecting Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore from prosecution of fund-raising crimes committed in the 1992 and 1996 campaigns.

Not until late last summer did Justice add the electronic-archiving system, which permits key-word searches of e-mail to comply with subpoenas and Freedom of Information Act requests.

“In August 2000, we put Windows NT, which has an archiving feature, on all desktops in the leadership offices — the attorney general, deputy attorney general and associate attorneys general,” said a deputy assistant attorney general in Justice’s management division, in an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily.

“Any archives prior to August 2000 are mostly paper,” she added.

Before the electronic archiving, it was up to top department officials to print out their e-mails and file them with other paper records.

The new system automatically moves undeleted e-mail sitting in in-boxes for 30 days or more to an archive file on an archive server, which can easily be searched by key words.

Such a system could have been operating several years ago, but unexplained glitches scuttled a pilot program.

Information-resources managers at Justice tried to roll out an electronic-archiving system using Windows 95 and Microsoft Outlook, an e-mail system that has an archiving feature, but were unsuccessful.

“We piloted that in some of the leadership offices,” said the career Justice official, who insisted on anonymity. “But our experience with the pilot is that it somehow got turned off of some people, either inadvertently or deliberately.”

“Unbelievable,” said Judicial Watch General Counsel Larry Klayman of the department’s shoddy record-keeping.

He contends that it’s “part of a culture of obstruction under the Reno Justice Department.”

Klayman, a one-time Justice lawyer, maintains that Reno and her aides have not been forthcoming with e-mail and other documents in several of Judicial Watch’s corruption lawsuits filed against the Clinton administration.

He also says that an agent with Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service recently swore in an affidavit that e-mail and other documents related to the Elian Gonzales case were destroyed at INS’s Miami office.

Lawyers with the House Government Reform Committee, run by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., say they’ve struggled to pry loose e-mail related to their investigation of Justice’s handling of the Chinagate probe.

Burton has accused Reno and Lee Radek, the head of her Public Integrity Section, of “blocking” for Clinton and Gore.

He’s not alone. The head of the Senate’s oversight panel, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., an ex-U.S. prosecutor, has decried Reno’s “penny-ante prosecutions,” and has suggested that she’s obstructed the Chinagate probe.

After four years, Reno’s task force has prosecuted some two dozen donors, nearly all of them minorities, who gave dirty cash to the Clinton-Gore campaigns or other federal campaigns. No White House or Democratic National Committee official (other than John Huang) involved in soliciting the illegal money has been prosecuted.

Radek, still at Justice, has been in charge of the task force. His e-mail is not tied into the new archive system.

“They (Public Integrity Section staff) still archive to paper,” the Justice official said.

The task force also maintains paper records, she says.

“There have been some memos that have gone out to line attorneys advising them not to forget e-mails are records that need to be preserved,” she said.

Paper records kept by Reno, now living in Miami where she is still escorted by federal guards, are stored at an offsite records center.

“When she left, that paper was packaged by the executive secretariat for the archives and moved on,” the Justice official said.

The official says Reno should have saved any notes from meetings with aides — including talks with Holder or Radek about how to respond to inquiries from Burton, Thompson or Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Any notes from talks with White House lawyers also should be saved.

“Even a little scribble on a piece of paper is worthy of preservation,” she said.

Essentially the same standards applied to Reno’s deputy, Eric Holder, she says.

E-mails sent among Rich’s lawyers show Holder was long involved in a campaign to drop charges against Rich, whose ex-wife donated hundreds of thousands to dollars to the DNC and Clinton’s presidential library foundation. Holder has sworn he played only a limited role.

It’s not clear if Holder used his Justice e-mail account to communicate with Rich’s lawyers or White House lawyers.

White House computer operators have testified that a trove of e-mail that mysteriously wasn’t recorded by an electronic-archiving system there over a two-year span, from 1996 to 1998, included messages about Chinagate. The operators were privy to the results of a 1998 test search of messages on the affected e-mail server.

A court-ordered search has recovered some 3 million missing e-mails, none of them duplicates, from some 4,500 White House emergency back-up tapes for Clinton’s and Gore’s offices. Judicial Watch asked for the search, but has not yet been allowed to review the e-mails for relevance to its $90 million Filegate lawsuit against former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and other former White House officials.

Burton’s investigators also are interested in the recovered e-mails, since they might capture any collusion between Justice and the White House over the Chinagate investigation.

The Justice official says the department also backs up its own e-mail servers.

But the back-up tapes probably would not contain much of the e-mail generated by Reno and top aides like Holder before August 2000, when the archiving software and server went on line.

“The back-ups are recycled and not supposed to be searched,” she said.

And there’s a drawback to the new e-mail archiving system, she says.

“Attached documents won’t turn up” in a key-word search, she said. “You have to open e-mails individually to find attachments.”

Added the official: “We don’t view this as a perfect, all-encompassing system.”

Related stories:

Reno aide’s role deepens

Ray shuts down Project X probe

Judge to unseal e-mail documents

U.S. attorney sat on e-mail threat

White House official threatens contractors

White House defies judge in e-mail case

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