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Contractor To Begin Restoration Of Recovered E-mail Messages

By Robert L. Jackson

Presidential counsel Beth Nolan assured a congressional committee Thursday that copies of thousands of White House e-mail messages that were missing for two years are secure and intact on backup computer tapes, but she said efforts to restore them will take nearly six months.

Under questioning by skeptical Republicans, Nolan said the work will be done by an outside contractor who has estimated that the job will take 170 days. At that point, she said, the White House will be able to determine if any of the lost messages are relevant to investigations of the Clinton administration by congressional panels or independent counsels.

“The backup tapes of e-mail records are secure,” Nolan testified. “We have already begun the process that will enable us to search these records, and we will do so as quickly as possible.”

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the Government Reform Committee, demanded to know why his panel was not immediately notified in June 1998 -- when the problem was discovered -- that some of the missing e-mails might be related to Democratic campaign-finance abuses, a subject his committee was investigating. The topic is of continuing interest to Republicans because activities of Vice President Al Gore figured heavily in that inquiry.

Nolan said that then-White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, her immediate predecessor, “never understood the full extent of the problem” when he learned of the “computer glitch” two years ago. But Ruff and others immediately sought to correct the problem, she said.

Nolan insisted that the breakdown was unintended and stressed that 7,700 e-mail records dealing with campaign finance found on the computers of individual White House officials had been supplied to Burton’s committee.