Video: White House says e-mails missing

NBC News and news services
updated 4/13/2007 7:47:26 PM ET 2007-04-13T23:47:26

Karl Rove's lawyer on Friday dismissed the notion that President Bush's chief political adviser intentionally deleted his own e-mails from a Republican-sponsored computer system.

The attorney said Rove believed the communications were being preserved in accordance with the law.

The issue arose because the White House and Republican National Committee have said they may have lost e-mails from Rove and other administration officials. Democratically chaired congressional committees want those e-mails for their probe of the firings of eight federal prosecutors.

"His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said.

The prosecutor probing the Valerie Plame spy case saw and copied all of Rove's e-mails from his various accounts after searching Rove's laptop, his home computer, and the handheld computer devices he used for both the White House and Republican National Committee, Luskin said.

The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, subpoenaed the e-mails from the White House, the RNC and Bush's re-election campaign, he added.

"There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record," Luskin said.

Any e-mails Rove deleted were the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly, Luskin said. He said Rove had no idea the e-mails were being deleted from the server, a central computer that managed the e-mail.

On Thursday, one Democratic committee chairman said his understanding was that the RNC believed Rove might have been deleting his e-mails and in 2005 took action to preserve them in accordance with the law and pending legal action.

Gonzales connection
The mystery of the missing e-mails is just one part of a furor over the firings of eight federal prosecutors that has threatened Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job and thrown his Justice Department into turmoil. Video: Leahy says he'll subpoena White House emails

For now, Bush is standing by his longtime friend from Texas, who has spent weeks huddled in his fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department preparing to tell his story to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

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New documents released Friday by the Justice Department may shed additional light, but their release prompted Gonzales' one-time chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to postpone a closed-door interview with congressional investigators.

Conservative credentials considered
One newly released document was being touted by Democrats as evidence that the prosecutors' conservative credentials were important to the Justice Department.

One Justice Department spreadsheet on the qualifications of the sitting federal prosecutors shows that along with prosecution experience, political experience and judicial experience, the U.S. attorneys were judged on whether they were members of the conservative Federalist Society.

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, founded by conservative law students, now claims 35,000 members, including prominent members of the Bush administration, the federal judiciary and Congress.

Among those prosecutors noted for being members: Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota whose office suffered a revolt this month when three lawyers resigned their management posts. Paulose earlier had served as a top Justice Department counsel and special assistant to Gonzales.

One of the eight prosecutors who were fired, Kevin Ryan of San Francisco, also was a member of the conservative group, according to the document.

The missing e-mails posed some of the weightiest questions of a sprawling political and legal conflict between the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress.

Purposeful deletions?
Democrats are questioning whether any White House officials purposely sent e-mails about official business on the RNC server - then deleted them, in violation of the law - to avoid scrutiny.

White House officials said the administration is making an aggressive effort to recover anything that was lost. "We have no indications that there was improper intent when using these RNC e-mails," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Luskin said Rove didn't know that deleting e-mails from his RNC inbox also deleted them from the RNC's server. That system was changed in 2005.

Such a configuration is uncommon and makes recovering e-mails "immeasurably harder," said retired FBI computer crimes specialist Joseph Dooley.

"It happens on occasion but usually you're not deleting things off the server," Dooley said. "That's highly unusual."

Rove voluntarily allowed investigators in the Plame case to review his laptop and copy the entire hard drive, from which investigators could have recovered even deleted e-mails, Luskin said.

As the investigation was winding down, Luskin said, prosecutors came to his office and reviewed all the documents - including e-mails - he had collected to be sure both sides had a complete set.

Luskin said if Fitzgerald believed any e-mails were destroyed, he would have called. Fitzgerald's office declined comment.

Recovering e-mails
A lawyer for the RNC told congressional investigators that the RNC may be able to recover some of those e-mails sent from August 2004 on. That's when the RNC put a hold on an automatic purge policy.

The RNC lawyer, Rob Kelner, also said that the Republican committee has none of Rove's e-mails on its server prior to 2005, possibly because Rove deleted them, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Sometime in 2005, the RNC took action solely to prevent Rove from deleting his e-mails on that server. One reason for specifying Rove, Waxman said, appears to have been pending legal action against him.

Some 50 past and current White House aides had the RNC accounts, according to the administration, to conduct political business.

Separately, Perino said millions of White House e-mails could have been accidentally lost when staffers' accounts were converted over to Microsoft Outlook from Lotus Notes during the first couple of years of the administration.

"I wouldn't rule out that there were a potential 5 million e-mails lost," the spokeswoman said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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