Right. But we do know if you look at the chronology that there were certainly recommendations that were made to White House counsel’s office and then nothing happened. So one inference that I think is perfectly legitimate is that the counsel’s office is the one that killed it. But I don’t know.
You didn’t get those because they were presidential records. Won’t those be public in twelve years?
That should be the case.
What was NARA’s ability to oversee this system?
It was totally at the good graces of the White House, and the White House froze them out for long periods of time. And there was nothing NARA could do. Some of these documents really expressed NARA’s frustration. The big overriding issue for NARA is always the transition—when a new president comes in, NARA starts planning almost immediately for the transition to the next one because it’s such an humongous undertaking. NARA really needed to get information about the systems so they could start planning. And they just weren’t getting that information. They didn’t know about the problem until our report came out, and they’re kind of blown off by the White House.
So even though NARA is the agency that’s going to end up holding these records, and processing them, and figuring out a way to get them to the public, there’s no requirement that the White House works hand in hand with them to make sure they are coming in a format that’s going to work.
I assume the assumption from Congress is that the president wants to preserve history, and that the president wants to do the right thing. The problem is when you get a president that is not doing the right thing—they have no ability to compel otherwise.
One of the more salacious parts of the story is the Libby e-mails. The White House’s archives contained no or few e-mails from certain days requested by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in his investigation of the Plame leak. In the report you say there are “tantalizing tidbits… that suggest more nefarious conduct.” It’s the records recording the response to Fitzgerald’s request that are missing.
Presumably, yes. Justice calls Alberto Gonzales and says “We’re going to need your records, we’re doing an investigation, and you guys need to preserve.”
One wonders what was going on. The idea that after being told—and maybe they suspected it, but having it confirmed—that Justice was doing an actual criminal investigation, that there would have been no e-mails in the vice president’s office is not believable.
They couldn’t find them. And they went to backup tapes, and they were not on backup tapes for the OVP [Office of the Vice President]. So then someone came up with the idea of looking at the backup tapes that have the individual mailboxes of individual OVP employees. Now that’s where I think in my mind one of the most curious and suspect things happens, which is when they put together the list of boxes to be recovered, somehow Libby’s name isn’t on it.
The report offers some potentially innocent explanations for how he was left off the list. Libby had this weird status—he was technically a Bush employee detailed to Cheney, and not an OVP employee.
But he was! He had this dual status. It’s just hard to fathom how the list could have gone through White House Counsel’s office for them to sign off on and they wouldn’t have said “You know, you really should have Libby on this.”
So do we know if Fitzgerald noticed that he didn’t get e-mails from Libby from this period?
No, we don’t. I assume there were some e-mails from Libby that were in other people’s e-mails that he got. And we know from a letter that Fitzgerald sent to Libby’s counsel and that Fitzgerald made public that he had been told by the White House that they had some e-mail problems.
My source told me that one of the things that was so curious was that White House Counsel’s office prepared rigorously for the meeting where they were going to tell Fitzgerald’s people about this problem, and that they were surprised and relieved when they got no pushback from him.
So your settlement required them to got back and look again for those days.
Yeah, and we don’t know what they found, because they are all presidential records.
So how do you know about the quality of compliance with the settlement? It goes into a twelve-year box at the Archives, right?
You’re right, and we don’t. NARA was monitoring compliance, and they have the responsibility to ensure the widest collection possible. We have to count on NARA and the assumption that the Obama administration has no interest in not seeing the broadest preservation possible.