Groups Say 22M Bush-Era E-Mails Recovered

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It appears that 22 million e-mail messages from the Bush administration have been restored, as part of an extensive recovery effort associated with several lawsuits. The Bush White House had blamed a faulty electronic-archiving system for the lost e-mails.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It appears that 22 million emails from the administration of George W. Bush have been restored; that's part of an extensive recovery effort that's associated with several lawsuits. The Bush White House had blamed a faulty electronic archiving system for the lost emails.

For more on this, we're joined now by NPR's Don Gonyea, who covered the Bush White House.

Don, I hope you can unravel this for us. First, what do we know about what might be in these emails?

GONYEA: Well, we do know that they come from specific days - 33 specific days -within that two-and-half-year period that the lawsuits cover. Okay? And if you look, you know, from early March to late 2005 - that includes certainly the Iraq War; it includes the Abu Ghraib Prison abuse scandal; it includes the Valerie Plame controversy.

SIEGEL: Yeah, these were lawsuits that were brought against the Bush White House seeking information, seeking all of this information.

GONYEA: Yes. Again, two groups filed these lawsuits and we have one settlement today based on both of those lawsuits. But the lawsuits were filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group we know as CREW, and the National Security Archive, which is affiliated with George Washington University. These are both open government groups and they had questions about how some of these things were being handled.

Also, in this mix, in that time period was the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys...

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: ...and questions about the degree to which Karl Rove was involved in demanding political loyalty.

SIEGEL: So, do I understand that the settlement is that the emails from 33 days will be found and gone through, as opposed to every single email that might have transpired?

GONYEA: And the answer we get is that to go through two and half years worth of emails - and there - these are, you know, on servers, on backup tapes. The White House admitted finally in 2007 that they were missing. And the sense was that they were unrecoverable, that they were gone, that they were beyond use. But a search has been underway, especially since the Obama administration came in.

The lawsuit is against the executive branch, so it carries over to the Obama administration. But this did not happen on their watch, so they had been working with these groups toward this settlement.

SIEGEL: So the plaintiffs in these suits will get to see the emails. When will the public get to see these emails?

GONYEA: Well, we don't even know that the plaintiffs will get to see the emails because a lot of them are covered by the Presidential Records Act. So some of them might be, you know, closed for 10 years; some - it might be five years; some related to specific questions it's possible that they could come out sooner. But I can tell you we are not going to get a stack of 22 million emails that we can go through at a long kind of reading session on a Friday night.

But again, the goal here is to make sure the record of the Bush administration is complete. And they knew that there were these missing emails because of the faulty archives system.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: And this will at least begin to restore some of them on specific dates that have been targeted as potentially useful.

SIEGEL: And would it in any way govern the activity of future administrations when they're similarly confronted for emails?

GONYEA: The Bush administration put new systems in place where things were archived...

SIEGEL: Uh-huh.

GONYEA: ...more effectively. The Obama administration says they are doing even more along those lines. But that does not say that we're not going to be talking about some missing emails at some point in the future.

SIEGEL: In the future.

Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Okay.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea.

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