Daryl Lease: What missing e-mails?

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 5:07 p.m.

We join a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, already in progress.

"Our next witness is Winston Smith, director of disinformation technology at the White House.''

'Mr. Smith. As you know, this committee is investigating the Bush administration's failure to preserve its e-mail in accordance with the Federal Records Act."


"It appears millions of official e-mails are missing from the early days of the administration until at least 2005.''


"Last April, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, 'I wouldn't rule out that there are a potential five million e-mails lost.'''

"I believe that statement was later clarified.''

"Contradicted, you mean. Spokesman Tony Fratto later claimed, 'We have no reason to believe that any e-mails, at all, are missing.'''

"That's right.''

"What's right?''

"We wouldn't rule out that we've lost five million e-mails, and we have no reason to believe any, at all, are missing.''

"But White House special counsel Emmett Flood said an internal study in 2005 identified 473 days in which no e-mails involving White House offices were preserved.''

"I wouldn't rule that out.''

"For instance, all e-mails are missing from Dec. 17, 20 and 21 in 2003, the week after the capture of Saddam Hussein.''

"It was the week before Christmas.''

"I don't see the relevance.''

"Well, a lot of our people were shopping online while at work. Our files were filled with confirmation notices for gift orders, so we purged those e-mails. Plus about 100,000 others, to cover our tracks.''

"What about early October 2003, when the administration failed to save e-mail in Vice President Cheney's offices? At that time, the Justice Department was just starting a probe into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent.''

"Purely coincidental. As it happened, Mr. Cheney was sending out a lot of 'cute kitten' e-mails that week.''

"Cute kitten e-mails?''

"Yes, sir. He goes on binges, sending out large volumes of e-mails containing photos of animals doing cute things ... like kittens wrapped up in balls of yarn.''

"So, you deleted them?''

"Yes, sir. There was some concern that historians of the future might consider the vice president a lightweight. So, we deleted those messages.''

"Plus 100,000 others?''

"To cover our tracks.''

"How about the 12 days between December 2003 and February 2004 when no e-mails were archived? At that time, the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein still had WMD were beginning to unravel.''

"Actually, President Bush heard about the vice president's cute kitten e-mails and wanted to check them out. One thing led to another, and the president soon attempted to recover the lost fortunes of dozens of Nigerian princes, ordered several Russian brides for bachelor friends in Texas, and purchased anatomical enhancements for some of his harshest male critics in Congress.''

"By the time we realized what had happened, the entire executive branch was flooded with spam from con artists. Our system was crippled.''

"So you deleted the president's e-mails?''

"In the interest of national security, sir.''

"And the rest of the missing messages?''

"To cover our tracks.''

Daryl Lease is a columnist for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota. Contact him at daryl.lease@heraldtribune.com.

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