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White House Aide Focused on Y2K

May 3, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Presidential aides didn’t ask Congress for money to recover e-mail missing from the White House archiving system because they were preoccupied by the looming Y2K computer problem, an aide testified today.

Republican lawmakers want to know why White House officials didn’t reveal the e-mail problem to congressional committees and other investigators examining a variety of allegations against the Clinton administration who had subpoenaed such documents.

During a House Government Reform Committee meeting today, Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., suggested the White House didn’t ask for money because it was trying to cover up the problem.

``We did not ask for funds″ to correct the e-mail problem because ``our singular purpose was Y2K,″ Michael Lyle, director of the White House Office of Administration, told congressional Republicans on the House Government Reform Committee.

At a hearing, Lyle acknowledged he was aware that huge amounts of e-mail had not been stored in a searchable database from mid-1996 to late 1998, but insisted, ``I am not aware of any subpoena compliance issues″ with various investigations from Whitewater to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Lyle took his White House post in November 1998, after the problem was discovered and focused on the technical issues.

Committee Republicans suggested the White House was covering up the problem.

``When you don’t have an honest president, you wonder whether the people who work for him are telling the truth,″ said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Committee chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said that internal White House documents turned over to the committee ``seem to indicate that there was a long debate over whether to ask Congress for money to fix the problem. ... If they revealed the problem, then Congress would know that document requests and subpoenas had not been complied with.″

Democrats said the administration is doing its best to retrieve unsearched e-mails that are being reconstructed from back-up tapes, a process that is just now starting and is expected to take months.

``We have become obsessed and intoxicated with the notion of investigating,″ complained Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn.

Republicans pounced on a document that says White House officials were considering deleting e-mail of Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, whose contentious attitude toward Ken Starr’s office in the Lewinsky scandal drew plaudits from Clinton supporters.

Lyle said a single e-mail to Blumenthal had gone awry, duplicating itself so many times that it crashed Blumenthal’s computer. Lyle said the White House simply decided to delete the duplicates, while saving the original.

Also testifying was White House computer expert Karl Heissner, who in early 1999 outlined a way to recover large amounts of e-mail that had not been placed into a searchable archive. Heissner’s steps weren’t acted on at the White House.

Heissner said he doesn’t know why no steps were taken in 1999.

White House computer experts discovered the e-mail problem in June 1998 and passed on information about it to the White House counsel’s office, which was responsible for producing documents to congressional investigators, the Justice Department and Independent Counsel Ken Starr.

Former White House Counsel Charles Ruff is set to testify Thursday.

Update hourly