By Producer
NBC News
updated 4/13/2007 8:22:57 PM ET 2007-04-14T00:22:57

Searching for missing Bush Administration e-mails may not be something new. While looking into how and why some U.S. attorneys were fired, Democratic investigators have learned that some White House e-mails on the subject are missing.

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There was a similar problem during the I. "Scooter" Libby perjury and obstruction of justice case, when attorneys for Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff had trouble finding e-mail documentation for their client.

Buried in a Jan. 31, 2006, filing at district court is a letter dated Jan. 23 and sent to Libby by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that refers to missing e-mails from the vice president and the president's Executive Office.

Fitzgerald was responding to a request from Libby's lawyers for additional documents, e-mails and other correspondence that the Libby team said were essential to mount their defense.

The last paragraph of the Fitzgerald letter says, "We are aware of no evidence pertinent to the charges against defendant Libby which has been destroyed."

But it goes on to say, "We advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."

Fitzgerald's spokesman, Randall Samborn, responded Friday night to an NBC News query asking if the 2006 e-mail request was ever resolved: "I don't think there was ever any other public record reference to this, so there's nothing I can add."

Samborn's response may indicate that there was never a way to recover the 2003 White House e-mails that the Libby defense team had requested.

The preservation of White House internal communications and memos has been an issue of legal contention since the 1980s, when President Reagan was in office.

More recently, in 2000, the Clinton White House became embroiled in a debate over a failure to preserve some of its e-mails.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was furious when the Clinton administration finally conceded that e-mails being sought by a grand jury and Congress went missing.

A problem with the White House computer system in 1998 apparently prevented thousands of incoming messages from being archived. As a result, the e-mails were not reviewed by White House lawyers to determine whether they should have been turned over to investigators probing cases that included the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Whitewater and campaign fundraising.

In 2002, some of the 1.8 million Clinton White House e-mails that were said to have been lost were recovered and put in the custody of the National Archives.

Joel Seidman is an NBC producer based in Washington.

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