Former White House lawyer ordered to testify about missing e-mail
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge on Friday refused to dismiss an obstruction of justice probe into missing e-mail from White House computers and ordered former White House lawyer Charles Ruff to testify about how he handled the matter.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wants Ruff to testify about about how he responded to reports of the missing e-mail messages when he learned of the problem in June 1998. Ruff, who helped defend President Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial last year, would be the highest-ranking official to appear under oath in the probe: He could testify as early as Monday.
At issue is in this hearing is whether the White House properly responded to the revelation that thousands of incoming e-mails were not properly archived, subsequently placing them beyond the reach of subpoenas issued by the Justice Department, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and Congress for ongoing investigations such as the Monica Lewinsky scandal and campaign finance matters.
Lamberth declined a request to call White House Chief of Staff John Podesta to the stand although the judge said he might revisit the issue after hearing Ruff's testimony.
The conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which is suing the White House over the related FBI files matter, has accused the White House of covering up its knowledge of the e-mail problem and then delaying a court-ordered effort to reconstruct the missing electronic messages. Thousands of messages are only now being recovered from backup tapes.
Both Ruff and Podesta were briefed on the problem. But after a limited test appeared to show that the missing e-mails were duplicates of e-mails already submitted to investigators, they did not pursue the matter.
Lamberth announced Friday that the reconstruction effort, which the White House is conducting under his oversight, is starting to show results. He said 25 of the estimated 3,500 tapes containing the messages have been searched for keywords related to the various investigations. He said there have been 3,900 search hits, but the results are still being analyzed.
In asking the probe be dropped, White House lawyers blamed poor communication between lawyers and computer technicians, not illegal acts, for the delay in informing the court about the computer trouble.
"There was a disconnect between people doing the work and the people making the decisions," Justice Department lawyer Thomas Millet told Lamberth.
"Ineptness started this case when FBI files ended up at the White House," Lamberth responded. "There comes a point when you have to wonder if the White House is that inept in everything they do."
Also Friday, Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Shapiro told the judge that efforts to confirm testimony from an earlier witness that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton used an e-mail account under a different name have proven unsuccessful.
"We have no information there is a pseudonym account, and we have been diligently trying to find out," Shapiro told the court.