NARA guidance under scrutiny

Guidance that the National Archives and Records Administration gave the

White House on preserving presidential records is the latest item under

scrutiny in the investigation of the White House e-mail system.

Independent Counsel Robert Ray has ordered the Archives to turn over instructions

the recordkeeping agency gave the White House on managing official records.

Lawyers for NARA are preparing to respond to an April 18 subpoena from Ray.

The information they plan to supply is general in nature and does not apply

just to electronic records, NARA spokeswoman Susan Cooper said.

As the nation's official recordkeeper, NARA establishes standards for what

constitutes an official record and determines how long different kinds of

records must be kept. In the case of the White House, if material relates

to carrying out the ceremonial or statutory duties of the president, they

are considered official records, Cooper said.

While a president is in office, the Archives serves only as an adviser in

regards to records. The agency does not take custody of presidential records

until a president leaves office. "We have a more limited role" with the

White House than with other federal agencies, an Archives official said.

Ray's office is trying to uncover why the White House failed to examine

thousands of e-mail messages when it was ordered to turn over records during

various investigations of the Clinton administration.

White House officials have blamed a computer error for failing to properly

save e-mail messages that might relate to fund-raising improprieties.

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