White House Says Y2K Took Priority Over E-Mails

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White House Says Y2K Took Priority Over E-Mails

Story Filed: Wednesday, May 03, 2000 5:33 PM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House aides said Wednesday they did not ask Congress for money to fix the executive wing's e-mail problems last year because preparations for potential Y2K computer problems were a higher priority.

While White House officials discovered in 1998 that computers were not archiving thousands of incoming e-mails that might have been sought by investigators in the Monica Lewinsky and campaign finance scandals, but they only told Congress of the glitch and began working to fix it earlier this year.

``Y2K preparations were a greater priority,'' Michael Lyle, director of the White House Office of Administration, told the House Government Reform Committee. ``That project was the number one priority.''

Lyle said his office was not aware that the e-mail problem might affect the White House's ability to respond to subpoenas from Congress or the independent counsel's office.

``We were operating without any knowledge there was a question about subpoena compliance,'' Lyle said at the third of at least four scheduled hearings on the issue.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton of Indiana, a frequent antagonist of President Clinton, said the delay in informing Congress was another sign of the administration's reflexive attempts to cover-up and drag its feet on scandal probes.

``They're going to try once again to run out the clock,'' Burton said, noting the e-mail system will not be fixed and searchable until late this year, after the November election.

``For almost two years, the White House knew that subpoenas weren't being complied with, and nothing was done about it,'' he said.

The glitch's disclosure prompted the Justice Department to open a criminal probe into charges the White House, once it recognized the problem, failed to hand over the e-mails and threatened computer workers to keep the problem quiet. Independent counsel Robert Ray is also looking into the matter.

The White House Counsel's Office was informed of the problem after it was discovered in 1998. But White House Counsel Beth Nolan testified last month that Charles Ruff, the counsel at that time, did not realize the problem would hinder production of subpoenaed documents. Ruff will testify Thursday.

Karl Heissner, an official at the Office of Administration (OAS), which oversees the computers, said a Feb. 5, 1999, memo he wrote to a colleague pointing out it might not be a good idea to draw the matter to the attention of Congress was not an attempt to cover up the issue.

``There was no intention or attempt to obstruct justice in any form,'' he said. He was referring, he said, to a decline in requests for information from Congress, not to the e-mail problem.

``The text here had the intention of saying, 'Let's not raise this, we don't need to have things stirred up and have more requests coming in that are unnecessary','' he said.

Heissner, who was preparing fellow OAS official Dorothy Cleal for testimony to a congressional budget committee, said in the memo: ``While I'll be happy to write up something related to the 'Information Requests' channeled to us via White House Counsel in response to various requests from Congress and litigants against the government, we may not want to call undue attention to the issue by bringing the issue to the attention of Congress because:

``Last year's hours consumed by ... staff amounts to only a little over 500. This year's hours consumed so far amounts to only 65 and the level of requests appears to be declining,'' he wrote, adding in brackets: ``Let sleeping dogs lie ...''

Heissner and Lyle were grilled by committee Republicans, who said they were exasperated at the White House's failure to inform Congress of the problem.

``When you don't have an honest president, you wonder if those who work for him are telling the truth,'' Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut said.

But Democrats said the hearings, which follow a three-year campaign finance investigation by the panel, had become absurd and embarrassing.

``I want to apologize on behalf of this committee,'' Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, a Democrat, said to the witnesses. ''We have become obsessed and intoxicated with the idea of investigating.''

Copyright ) 2000 Reuters Limited.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 03, 2000


Yes, we have become obsessed and intoxicated with the idea of investigating. But, for every cause there is an effect. That's as simple as two plus two equals four. And look at the big number and variety of causes this administration has provided us.

-- Uncle Fred (dogboy45@bigfoot.com), May 04, 2000.

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