White House, groups look to settle e-mail case

The Justice Department and the groups that sued the Executive Office of the President during the Bush administration for allegedly failing to archive millions of e-mail messages are working to reach a settlement out of court.

The litigation, which U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy recently ordered stayed, was brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and George Washington University’s National Security Archive in September 2007. Those groups and the Justice Department, which represents the current administration, requested the suspension to see if the consolidated case could be settled.

The lawsuit alleges the Bush administration violated the Federal Records Act by not recovering, restoring and preserving millions of electronic communications, and by not establishing an electronic records management system that complies with that law. The allegedly missing messages are from a period that includes the invasion of Iraq, key developments in the Valerie Plame leak investigation and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Under the stay order, pending motions and requests related to the case are withdrawn and the groups will jointly update the court on the negotiations every three months. Justice had asked for the case to be dismissed Jan. 21 on the grounds that the Bush administration’s e-mail message recovery efforts had been sufficient.

Anne Weismann, CREW’s chief counsel, said the open government groups still want answers to the same questions they have raised during the ongoing litigation concerning the Bush administration's e-mail archiving practices. She also said they want the recovery and restoration of the e-mail messages they say are missing and installation of a new automatic electronic records management system in the White House.

The stay was jointly requested March 30 and ordered by the court March 31.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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