BOSTON (06/12/2000) - The White House last week admitted that it failed to make backups of Vice President Al Gore's e-mail messages for more than a year because of what it described as a "technical configuration error" on a Windows NT server.
The problem was brought to light in a June 7 letter from the White House to the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, which has been investigating the vice president's campaign fund raising and had sought all of his e-mail dating back to 1996.
But an e-mail server within the Office of the Vice President "wasn't backed up from the end of March 1998 to early April 1999," according to the letter signed by Steven F. Reich, a senior associate counsel at the White House.
In March of 1998, a White House contractor migrated the server in Gore's office to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0 operating system. But the unidentified contractor failed to set the server's configuration to make backup copies of e-mail, said Reich's letter, which was sent in response to a May 16 inquiry from the committee about why the White House hadn't complied with a March 9 subpoena of Gore's e-mail.
During the NT conversion, the contractor created a new drive partition for e-mail on the server and labeled it the E: drive. "Technical personnel neglected to add the new E: drive to the server backup schedule," Reich wrote.
"While backups of the (vice president's) server continued as before, they no longer captured e-mail that had been transferred to the new E: drive."
The White House Office of Administration's Information Systems and Technology Division discovered the mistake sometime after April 2, 1999, and then reconfigured the server to make copies of e-mail in the Gore office, the letter said.
Representative Dan Burton (Republican-Indiana) - chairman of the committee and a fierce critic of the Clinton administration - has called for a special counsel to investigate the missing e-mail.
"This is just the latest outrage in this whole unfortunate matter," Burton said in a June 8 statement. "First, the White House Counsel certified that we had all documents responsive to our subpoenas. Then the White House led us to believe that all the missing e-mails had been saved on thousands of backup tapes. Now we learn that not even that is true."
The administration's "failure to turn over records about problems in the vice president's office is yet another example of the ethical minimalism that governs White House document production," Burton added.
Reich's letter said the administration is trying to be responsive to the e-mail subpoena, but it added that the lawyers are delving into what is new territory for them. "While we are doing our best to get a handle on these matters, we are lawyers with laypersons' understandings of what are sometimes complex technical issues," the letter noted.