WASHINGTON - Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mail messages from the administration of President George W. Bush, and the Obama administration is searching for dozens more days' worth of potentially lost e-mail from the Bush years, according to two private groups that sued over the Bush White House's failure to install an electronic recordkeeping system.
The groups - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the National Security Archive - said yesterday that they were settling the lawsuits they filed against the Executive Office of the President in 2007.
It will be years before the public sees any of the e-mail, because it will now go through the National Archives' process for releasing presidential and agency records.
Former Bush White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that the 22 million e-mail messages had already been recovered while Bush was still in office and that misleading statements about the former administration's work demonstrate "a continued anti-Bush agenda, nearly a year after a new president was sworn in."
"The liberal groups CREW and National Security Archive litigate for sport, distort the facts and have consistently tried to create a spooky conspiracy out of standard IT issues," he said in a statement.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, said the 22 million e-mail messages "would never have been found but for our lawsuits and pressure from Capitol Hill."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) said the Bush administration had been dismissive of congressional requests that it recover the e-mail.
The tally of missing e-mail, the additional searches, and the settlement are the latest development in a political controversy that stemmed from the Bush White House's failure to install a properly working electronic recordkeeping system. Two federal laws require the White House to preserve its records.
The two groups say there is not yet a final count on the extent of missing White House e-mail and may never be a complete tally.
"Many poor choices were made during the Bush administration," Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, said, "and there was little concern about the availability of e-mail records, despite the fact that they were contending with regular subpoenas for records and had a legal obligation to preserve their records."
The two groups say the 22 million White House e-mail messages were previously mislabeled and effectively lost.
The government now can find and search 22 million more e-mail messages than it could in late 2005, and the settlement means the Obama administration will restore 94 calendar days of e-mail from backup tape, said Kristen Lejnieks, an attorney for the National Security Archive.
Sheila Shadmand, another lawyer for the National Security Archive, said the Obama administration was making a strong effort to clean up "the electronic data mess left behind by the prior administration."
Records released as a result of the lawsuits show that Bush's White House was aware during his first term in office that the e-mail system had serious archiving problems. Those did not become publicly known until 2006, when federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald disclosed them during his investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.