The White House must preserve e-mail and maintain copies of millions of backup e-mail messages that were allegedly deleted improperly from servers, according to a temporary restraining order issued Monday by a US judge.
The order from Judge Henry was a victory for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group that filed suit against the Executive Office of the President and the National Archives and Record Administration in September.
The group contends that the White House has not been accountable about the deleted e-mail messages and has a deficient e-mail archival system in place.
The lawsuit also alleged that the defendants knowingly failed to recover, restore and preserve millions of electronic communications records in the White House. CREW alleged that the e-mail messages were improperly deleted from the servers.
CREW said that if any copies of the deleted e-mail messages existed, those would be on backup storage devices, and asked for devices and documents to be preserved.
The restraining order will add transparency to "an administration committed more to secrecy than compliance with the law," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, in a statement referring to the administration of President George Bush.
The White House routinely assured CREW that it had a proper e-mail archiving system in place, according to court filings related to the case. White House officials couldn't be reached for comment.
The White House discovered in 2005 that an unknown number of e-mail messages were missing from its archive, said Keith Roberts, the deputy general counsel of the White House Office of Administration, in a May briefing to the congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Roberts also stated that a contractor responsible for daily audits of the e-mail system and archiving failed to detect and report the problems at the time.