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White House E-mails Probe Begins

March 24, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge ordered Justice Department prosecutors Friday to appear in private next week to make their case for delaying a hearing on missing White House e-mails.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s order was in response to Justice Department lawyers’ argument that Lamberth’s hearing in a civil case should not occur while a criminal investigation of the e-mails is under way.

The Clinton administration said last week that computer errors made it impossible to search thousands of White House e-mails covered by subpoenas from congressional officials and grand juries.

The messages also were sought by plaintiffs in the civil case before Lamberth. Lawyers for the conservative legal organization Judicial Watch filed the $90 million lawsuit against the government contending the White House improperly obtained and used FBI background files.

The White House had been scheduled to respond Friday to allegations that e-mails related to the files were withheld from the plaintiffs, who sought a full hearing on the matter with witness testimony.

Justice Department lawyer James Gilligan told Lamberth the criminal investigation now under way should take precedence over the civil case. The criminal probe, announced Thursday, will focus on the missing e-mails and allegations by some contract employees that they were threatened with arrest if they discussed the problem publicly.

Lamberth said he would not grant ``an open-ended, indefinite stay″ in the civil case but asked prosecutors to meet in a closed session Thursday to make their arguments.

Judicial Watch’s Larry Klayman argued that ``even a stay of one day would be inappropriate,″ because the Justice Department is hiding the e-mails ``to get past the next election.″

``The allegation that our strategy is to delay is false,″ Gilligan responded.

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