Reed Irvine - Editor
  May B, 2000

HOW AND WHY THE WHITE HOUSE HID ITS E-MAIL

 THIS ISSUE:
  • Criminal Obstruction Of Justice
  • The Debt Owed Sheryl Hall
  • The Tripp Treatment
  • E-mails Could Jail Others
  • White House Defense Crumbles
  • If One Excuse Fails, Try Another
  •  
  • Notes
  • Paul Rodriguez, the managing editor of Insight magazine, had two major scoops in his column, "news alert!," in the magazine's December 28, 1998 issue. The first was his discovery that there are records of all telephone calls made from the White House dating back to 1993. This surprised federal law enforcement and congressional investigators who were told that such records did not exist. For example, the Senate committee that investigated the handling of Vince Foster's death could not get the records that would show the time that a phone call was made from the White House to inform the governor of Arkansas of Foster's death. There is a big difference in the time trooper Roger Perry said he received the call and the time that Helen Dickey said she placed it. If the phone records proved that Perry was right, that would prove that Bill Clinton told a big and significant lie about the time he learned of Foster's death...

    Rodriguez's second scoop concerned what the White House called "Project X." He said:

    "It's top secret and there's going to be hell to pay if anyone finds out about it," a White House insider tells news alert! "They're real nervous about this getting out," a consultant says of the e-mail project, partly because hundreds involve Monica Lewinsky.

    So what is Project X and why is the White House sweating about it being revealed? Federal law enforcement and congressional investigators for months now -- in some cases years -- have sought to get their hands on White House e-mail traffic. Of course, the subpoenas have flown, but often to little satisfaction...

    Project X grew out of a routine computer-repair job in the early summer, say White House insiders. There were problems with a server in the West Wing computer system, and engineers from a contractor discovered a blockage caused by about 100,000 e-mails, many of which may come under subpoenas issued by Capitol Hill panels and Independent Counsel Ken Starr. Now the White House is busily and secretly undertaking a complicated e-mail reconstruction effort, hoping to avoid raising the ire of any panel that discovers the existence of this hoard of electronic messages...

    So why hasn't the White House come clean and informed various panels and Starr of the discovery? Insiders say there's a lively debate going on involving a fair amount of legal hair-splitting. Some folks in the West Wing believe that unless re-subpoenaed, the White House doesn't have a duty to tell anyone about the irritating new batch of e-mails discovered. Others aren't so sure.

    White House spokesman Barry Toiv confirms to news alert! the discovery and secret review. But he claims the e-mails -- those of Lewinsky and her pals, for example -- appear to duplicate some already turned over to requesters like Starr.

    Rodriguez's follow-up in Insight's January 11-18, 1999 issue reported that a law enforcement source had told him that Justice Department and congressional investigators were working quietly and rapidly to track down these records before the files disappeared. His White House sources told him that there was "a flurry of activity" to find who leaked and "to get control of the records before federal agents swarm in." "They're in a panic over this," his source said. He also reported that the Justice Department officials did not "appear eager to secure the (phone) records."

    Criminal Obstruction Of Justice

    Rodriguez was on to what has now become an important story, one that deserves much more attention than the mainstream media have given it. We now know that what Rodriguez was told about the technical aspects of the e-mail problem was not accurate, nor was the report that congressional investigators moved quickly to get control of the hundreds of thousands of "mislaid" e-mails. But it was true that the White House panicked and tried desperately to keep Congress and the public from learning that there were many thousands of e-mails that had not been searched to see if they contained material that had been subpoenaed. They went so far as to threaten the contract workers who discovered the problem with loss of their jobs and jail sentences if they discussed it even with their bosses and spouses.

    This came to light early this year as a result of former White House employees giving the information, under oath, to Judicial Watch, Larry Klayman's surrogate mini-Justice Department. Paul Rodriguez had been unable to follow up on the story in 1999 because of health problems that incapacitated him for much of the year. Nothing more was reported on it until Sheryl Hall, a career civil servant who had worked in the Clinton White House and knew a lot about its e-mail problem, contacted Larry Klayman. She disclosed the lengths to which the White House had gone to keep Congress and the public from learning that hundreds of thousands of e-mails sent to the Executive Office of the President had not been searched for subpoenaed material.

    The Justice Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel did nothing until they intervened to forestall action on the part of Judge Royce Lamberth in connection with the $90 million Filegate suit that Judicial Watch has filed against the Clintons. Larry Klayman has asked Judge Lamberth to initiate a criminal contempt proceeding on the grounds that the White House handling of the "mislaid" e-mails is a criminal obstruction of justice. Klayman points out that the judge can use a "show cause order" to indict the defendants and initiate a criminal trial. He says that Judge Lamberth agreed to defer to the Justice Department and to Independent Counsel Robert Ray for a short period to allow them time for an investigation, but that he will then take up the Judicial Watch motion to start a criminal proceeding.

    The Debt Owed Sheryl Hall

    This would not have happened had it not been for the integrity and courage displayed by Sheryl Hall, a mother of three and a career civil servant with 18 years of service. She landed a job in the White House by competing for it during the Bush administration, but she voted for Clinton in 1992. Her field is computer technology, and she thought Clinton would give this higher priority. Her job in the Clinton White House was to supervise some 40 employees who provided technical assistance to White House employees who had trouble with their computers and telephones. In early 1994, when a White House database was being developed, ostensibly for use as the First Lady's Christmas card list, she became concerned about the inclusion of political information such as contributions to the Democratic National Committee. She found the White House was exchanging tapes and information with the DNC.

    Hall said she believed that using government resources for political purposes was a violation of the Hatch Act. She discussed her objections to this with her immediate supervisor and with Patsy Thomasson, who was at that time the assistant director of the Office of Management and Administration, and Marsha Scott. Scott, who came from Arkansas with the Clintons, has been very close to the president. She has been called his "hippie girl friend." Scott told Sheryl Hall that the database was top priority for Hillary and that the president was also very interested in it. A few weeks after these conversations she was taken off the project.

    The Tripp Treatment

    Because of her civil service status, her excellent record, and the sensitive nature of her complaint, they couldn't fire Hall. They gave her the same treatment that Linda Tripp was given after she exposed the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. They took away Hall's title and her responsibilities, subordinated her to a man she outranked, and stuck her in a small office with nothing to do. This backfired. They were hoping she would resign, but she stuck it out for two years. She maintained contact with other employees who were concerned about the unethical things they either observed or were asked to do. They kept her informed and sometimes asked for her advice. That is how she learned about the hundreds of thousands of mislaid e-mails, all the e-mails that had been sent over a two-year period to about 500 members of the White House staff. Only a few of them had been searched for material that was under subpoena.

    Hall says she was first told about this by Robert Haas, a Northrop Grumman employee, in June 1998. She was a little skeptical because it was so odd that no one had noticed that all these messages had not been properly stored for so long. Haas had told her that he and other members of the Northrop Grumman team had been warned that they would be sent to jail if they told anyone about the missing e-mails. He also told her, she says, that White House officials wanted to get the team leader, Betty Lambuth, out of the way because "she was being too vocal about trying to get them to move forward on resolving this issue."

    They did get rid of Betty Lambuth. She was removed from the contract on July 31, 1998, not long after she brought the problem to the attention of the Office of Administration and started trying to retrieve the information. She said, "It became very obvious to me and to several of the other people that there was a stall going on....I couldn't get meetings, we couldn't get any information. And until we could move or have permission to move to the next step, there really wasn't a whole lot that we could do at times. Asked if the problem could have been solved and the subpoenaed material could have been found by now, Lambeth replied, "Oh, most definitely. It would have been completed probably some time ago."

    E-mails Could Jail Others

    Lambuth confirmed that she and others were warned that they would be terminated and sent to jail if they discussed the e-mail problem with others, including their supervisor. She also confirmed Sheryl Hall's claim that a test search of the mislaid e-mails by Bob Haas had turned up information on Filegate, Chinagate, Vice President Gore's campaign and the selling of seats on trade missions. She said she had not seen these messages herself, but she was told that "if the contents of the mail was revealed that there would have been, most definitely, different outcomes."

    Haas had told Hall the same thing, saying that "if this information had been given to "the appropriate authorities...other people would have gone to jail." Haas has denied this in his testimony before the House Government Reform Committee.

    Hall said Haas feared for his life, his family and his livelihood. She said he also told her that back-up tapes containing six-months worth of missing e-mails had been written over, erasing the original messages. She thought Haas was concerned that he or Northrop Grumman would be blamed for not giving those who had subpoenaed documents all that they had requested and the failure to report the problem.

    "If it was just a computer error," Hall has said, "why did they not come forward and admit that the searches are incomplete...and take the appropriate steps to fix the problem? But they waited six months to even fix the problem and have not mentioned it since. Northrop Grumman, to their credit, has come back and said: This is what it will take to do, this is how long, these are the steps. The White House has not acted on it at all."

    Kathleen Gallant, a political appointee who served in the White House Office of Administration in 1998, explained this in an affidavit for Judicial Watch. She said it appeared to her that Mark Lindsay, who was then the counsel in the Office of Administration, his supervisors and other White House officials did not want to correct the e-mail problem because they wanted to avoid searching the misdirected e-mails for subpoenaed material. She believes that the contract workers who discovered the problem were warned not to talk about it because if this had been made public there would have been strong pressure to correct it and conduct the search. She tried to get that done, urging that surplus funds in the National Security Council computer program be used to correct the e-mail problem, but nothing was done. When she left the White House in October 1998, incoming e-mail was still being misdirected.

    The heroes in this story are the three female whistleblowers who have come forward to expose the criminal obstruction of justice by the Clintons and their top aides. Two of them lost their White House jobs, but they have landed others. The five-month delay in correcting the problem and the fact that the "mislaid" e-mails have yet to be reconstructed and searched is evidence of criminal obstruction of justice.

    White House Defense Crumbles

    Former White House Counsel Charles Ruff and Mark Lindsay, who is now director of the White House Office of Administration, were questioned about this by the Burton committee on May 4. Both claimed inability to remember important facts. Despite their denials that there was any cover-up, their answers exposed the White House strategy of denial and obfuscation. The reports in the media focused mainly on Ruff, who was the last Watergate Independent Counsel. He told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in 1977 that if he was ever queried about things he didn't want to reveal, he would say, "I just don't remember what happened back then." He said that would protect him from being indicted for perjury. In his testimony before the Burton committee, he took that approach 12 times in 30 minutes.

    Ruff said he first learned of the e-mail problem in June 1998. He claimed that he knew that a member of his staff ran a search to determine the extent of the problem, but he could not remember who it was. He wasn't asked if he had made any effort to find out who it was. He said a test made of e-mails from Monica Lewinsky had shown that they were all duplicates of material they had on paper. He concluded that there was no serious problem. Ruff said he was willing to assume responsibility for failing to pursue the matter adequately, but he insisted that there was never any effort to delay the turning over of documents subject to subpoena. He was not asked to explain why those who were pressing for prompt action to correct the error and conduct the search were rebuffed and warned not to tell anyone else about the problem.

    Ruff got most of the attention in the stories in the papers about the hearings. The testimony of Mark Lindsay was mentioned barely, if at all, even though it revealed very clearly that the delay in correcting the problem and notifying Congress of its existence was deliberate. Lindsay was one of two White House staffers who allegedly warned the Northrop Grumman contract employees that they could be sent to jail if they told anyone about the e-mail problem that they had discovered. He was counsel to the Office of Administration at that time. He denied ever having issued such a warning. Not all the Northrop Grumman employees could recall hearing "jail" mentioned, but three did. Kathleen Gallant, who like Lindsay was a political appointee, said in her affidavit that, based on her experience in working with Lindsay, she was confident that he was capable of making that threat.

    If One Excuse Fails, Try Another

    Lindsay, one-time aide to former Rep. Louis Stokes of Ohio, claimed that no effort was made to correct the e-mail problem when it was discovered in June 1998 because it was much more important to make sure that the White House computers were Y2K compliant. He was unable to explain why the Y2K problem precluded doing anything about the e-mail problem. Nor could he explain how it justified not informing Congress about the e-mail problem. The committee had obtained a copy of a page drafted for the briefing book that was being prepared for Lindsay's testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee on the 1999 budget request for his office. This page had included the problem of the missing e-mails as an item to be discussed, but it was crossed out.

    Rep. Christopher Shays, R., Conn., asked Lindsay why it was dropped. Lindsay said that he did not include in his briefing book things that he knew a lot about. Rep. Shays said that was absurd, pointing out that the committee had found it hard to get any information about the e-mails from Lindsay. He cited several topics listed in the briefing book that he said must have been more familiar to Lindsay than the e-mail case.

    Lindsay then shifted to a different explanation. He said the briefing book was designed to help him respond to questions about important issues like Y2K that were most likely to come up at the hearing. Shays saw that as an admission that the e-mail issue was omitted because Congress, not knowing there was a problem, would not question him. Lindsay denied that. Asked if anyone in Congress knew of the e-mail problem, Lindsay replied, "I don't know." Shays asked why anyone in Congress would know, saying, "You guys didn't tell anybody." Lindsay said, "I had discussions with Northrop Grumman. I got a letter from someone in Kentucky who worked for Northrop Grumman about the matter. There were lots of people." When Shays demanded that he provide names, Lindsay said: "It's not that I talked about it. It's just that the record is replete with examples of people within the Office of Administration and people on the outside of the Office of Administration --" He finally admitted that he did not know of anyone in Congress who was aware of the problem. Shays said to suggest otherwise was disingenuous, a polite word for lying.

    AIM Report NOTES FROM THE EDITOR'S CUFF

    THIS REPORT DISCUSSES TWO IMPORTANT NEWS STORIES THAT FAILED TO ATTRACT THE media attention they deserved when they were first reported. Both stories were broken by news weeklies, one by Insight magazine, which is owned by the Washington Times, and the other by Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post. In both cases, the newspaper that owned the magazine failed to pick up, much less develop, the magazine's scoop. The Washington Times, a conservative paper, certainly had no political bias that kept it from reporting Paul Rodriguez's stories in Insight in Dec. 1998 and Jan. 1999 about the misdirected White House e-mails. The story was finally reported across the top of page one of the Washington Times on Feb.15, 2000, based on a sworn statement that Sheryl Hall, a former White House employee turned whistleblower, gave to Judicial Watch. The Times has been on top of the story ever since.

    I HAVEN'T YET FOUND OUT WHY THE WASHINGTON POST CHOSE TO USE A POOR Associated Press story on how little damage was done to the Serbian military forces in Kosovo by our bombing instead of doing its own story based on the Newsweek account. I raised this at the annual Washington Post shareholders meeting on May 11. Chairman Donald Graham, who presided over the meeting, agreed that this was a good question, but he had no answer. He said he would call it to the attention of the editor. Richard Smith, Newsweek's editor, thanked me for bringing the matter up. I gave the assistant publisher a letter to the editor on the subject that I had written that concluded with this question: "Why did the Post run a shallow story about the Pentagon news conference called to discredit Newsweek and ignore the well-sourced story that caused the conference?" It was published on May 15, but that question has yet to be answered. I posed it to Arnaud de Borchgrave, a Newsweek foreign correspondent for many years, when he addressed AIM's monthly luncheon in Washington a few days later. He confirmed that there was rivalry between the Post and Newsweek. He said he had found it easier to get stories broken by Newsweek picked up by other newspapers than by the Post.

    PERHAPS RELUCTANCE TO ADMIT HAVING BEEN SCOOPED BY A NEWS WEEKLY EXPLAINS why the New York Times ran no story on the ineffectiveness of the bombing in Kosovo. I questioned Elizabeth Becker, their Pentagon correspondent, about this. She had covered the Pentagon news conference. She pointed out that the Times had reported Gen. Corley's figures on the number of tanks, APCs and artillery pieces destroyed when they were first released last year. They were old news. When I asked why she didn't report the new news, the Newsweek revelations, she referred me to her editor Tom Shanker.

    I LAST SPOKE TO MS. BECKER IN 1978, WHEN I ASKED HER WHY SHE DIDN'T DO A STORY for the Washington Post about a news conference where Pin Yathay, who had escaped from Cambodia, described Pol Pot's bloody reign of terror. She referred me to her editor, Larry Stern, who told me that the Post had published a number of stories similar to Pin Yathay's. False! It had published none. Stern was a leftist, and I suggested that he was covering up for his soulmate. That offended Ben Bradlee, then the executive editor of the Post, who sent me a note calling me "a miserable, carping, retromingent vigilante." In his memoirs, Ben said this put me on the map and "helped (me) raise hundreds of thousands of dollars." I was amused by his letter, and I published it and have gotten laughs with it ever since, but I doubt that it raised any money for AIM. He says it was prompted by "some particularly offensive and tendentious criticism of the Post." I didn't threaten to sue him for these defamatory statements, or many others that he has made about me. I didn't even seek an apology.

    I THOUGHT OF THIS WHEN A WASHINGTON POST LAWYER WROTE TO FRED GIELOW, author of a collection of outrageous quotations titled You Don't Say, complaining that a quote attributed to Ben was taken out of context and was "an effort to defame Mr. Bradlee, a professional newspaperman of the highest caliber and depict Mr. Bradlee in a false light in violation of his right of privacy." The quote reads, "To hell with the news. I'm no longer interested in the news. I'm interested in causes. We don't print the truth. We don't pretend to print the truth...." Gielow was threatened with legal action if he did not rectify this.

    THIS WAS DERIVED FROM ANOTHER OF MY FAVORITE BEN BRADLEE QUOTES. IN AN AIM book, The News Manipulators, after reporting that two prominent journalists had said in a panel discussion that their organizations had crossed the line from objective reporting to advocacy, I wrote: "Ben Bradlee said he had no problem with what his fellow panelists were saying, but he warned there was Ďa minor danger in saying it, because as soon as you say, "To hell with the news, I'm no longer interested in news, I'm interested in causes," you've got a whole kooky constituency to respond to, which you can waste a lot of time on.'" At a different time and place, Bradlee had also said, "We don't print the truth. We don't pretend to print the truth. We print what people tell us. It is up to the public to decide what is true." Gielow had found in Trashing the Planet by the late Dixy Lee Ray part of the first quote, beginning with "To hell with the news," joined with the first two sentences of the second quote. He used that in his book, giving her book as the source. When he learned that this quote combined two separate statements and did not provide necessary context for one of them, Gielow promptly issued an apology to Ben Bradlee. His statement is posted on his web site, www.youdontsay.org and will be distributed with copies of the book that contain the flawed quote that are sold by AIM and others from now on.

    BRADLEE HAS A RIGHT TO DEMAND THAT THE RECORD BE SET STRAIGHT, AS DO I WITH respect to statements he has made about me. I find it a bit odd that he should contemplate taking legal action against Gielow, since that would bring out the fact that he clearly associated himself with advocacy journalism. I have a letter from Katharine Graham explaining what Ben really meant. The essence of it was that he did not think "it is unobjective to decide as a matter of policy that a handful of issues are so damn important to the welfare of one's community or one's country or one's civilization that you pay them special mind." He cited the environment, drugs and AIDS as examples. No one can object to "paying special mind" to these and lots of other issues, including the accuracy of our bombing in Kosovo and the failure to fix the White House e-mail problem. Objectivity implies reporting the important facts and doing so accurately. Advocacy implies suppressing inconvenient facts that conflict with one's convictions, such as data that refute claims that the globe is warming and the fact that those who tell us that 12 children a day die of gunshot wounds are counting all teenagers as children.

    THE ESTABLISHMENT MEDIA HAVE FAILED TO REPORT OBJECTIVELY THE FACTS surrounding the May 15 rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court of AIM's request that it review a decision by the Circuit Court of Appeals not to require the National Park Service to release the photos taken by the U.S. Park Police of the crime scene in the Foster case. The National Park Service, NPS, claims that releasing any photos of Foster's body would be an invasion of the privacy of members of Foster's family. This argument was accepted by both the District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The judges ignored the long-established principle that death terminates a person's privacy interests. They wouldn't even examine the photos themselves.

    UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, PRIVACY INTERESTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE weighed against the public's interest in obtaining the information being withheld. In the Foster case, the NPS contends that the release of the photos would be offensive to Foster's family because of their graphic nature. There was nothing gruesome about any of the crime scene photos. The first person to see Foster's body thought he was sleeping. There were no easily visible wounds and very little visible blood. The real reason the government refuses to release the photos is that they can be used to disprove the U.S. Park Police claim that it was so obvious that Foster committed suicide that there was no need to investigate his death as a possible homicide. The one photo that has been leaked to the press, the one with the tip of Foster's right thumb on the trigger of the gun in his hand, proves that the police explanation of why the gun remained in his hand was false. They claimed his thumb was wedged between the trigger and the trigger guard. The tip of the thumb would have to be over an inch thick to be "wedged." Another photo shows a spot on the right side of Foster's neck that a paramedic who saw the body and the prosecutor who had the photo enhanced believe may be a small-caliber bullet wound.

    IF RELATIVES OF THE DEAD ARE ALLOWED TO DECIDE WHAT INFORMATION ABOUT THE deceased can be made public, the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act will be seriously weakened. The FBI might change its policy of releasing its files on people who have died. Those files often contain information of a derogatory nature that some surviving relative would like to suppress. No government agency should be allowed to withhold evidence of wrongdoing by their employees on the flimsy excuse that this would offend the relatives of some dead person. An FOIA request for the Foster photos is before the 12th District Circuit Court of Appeals. We are hoping that court will order their release. If it doesn't we may file another request elsewhere.


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