Election season heats up e-mail debates
- By William Matthews
- Oct 02, 2000
If the flap about missing White House e-mail messages was ever about technology,
that's no longer the case. Questions about how tens of thousands of e-mail
messages were not saved by an automatic archiving system have given way
to old-fashioned election-season politics.
For seven months, House Republicans have been hoping that "reconstructed"
messages from tape copies of the missing White House e-mails would turn
up new and damaging evidence of campaign finance malfeasance, but so far
they have had to settle for something less.
Clearly frustrated, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House
Government Reform Committee, accused the Clinton administration of "spinning
and stalling" after Congress determined that the first batch of e-mail messages
the administration turned over Sept. 22 contained little that would embarrass
The most suggestive message was a 1996 e-mail sent by a vice presidential
aide. "I do not remember asking, but I may have. These are FR coffees, right?"
Burton read from a stack of e-mail messages during a Sept. 26 congressional
"That FR doesn't stand for French roast," Burton declared. "Of course
not. It means "fund-raising coffees.' And the president and vice president
said the coffees weren't fund-raisers."
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) dismissed Burton's conclusion as another
in a series of "wild allegations" by committee Republicans determined to
prove that the Clinton administration is corrupt.
By Waxman's count, 130,000 of 150,000 missing e-mail messages have been
recovered and reviewed, and "only 55 have any relevance to this committee's
investigation" of fund-raising improprieties, he said.
But with a close presidential election looming, the e-mail matter is
unlikely to vanish.
Burton accused the White House and the Justice Department, of "trying
to run out the clock" in the final months of the Clinton administration
by stalling and refusing to turn over information that Republicans have
Waxman countered by saying that despite years of investigations, costing
$8 million, for the Republicans "there's always something missing to justify
another wild-goose chase."
On Sept. 26, Burton and Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) pummeled Deputy
Assistant Attorney General Alan Gershel for a decision made by Attorney
General Janet Reno not to launch a separate investigation into the e-mail
Gershel repeatedly refused to answer such basic questions as how many
Justice Department attorneys have been assigned to the e-mail case, which
he supervises. First Gershel insisted that it was Justice custom not to
disclose such information. Then he said, "Even if I was comfortable with
giving an answer, the number changes."
Horn demanded to know "on what authority" Gershel refused to answer
the question, but after threatening to require Gershel to answer, Horn let
the matter drop.