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Restoring Emails and Restoring Openness

Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, gives an update on a long-running dispute over the previous Administration's emails.

From day one of his Administration, a top priority for President Obama has been changing the way Washington works by making government more open, accountable and accessible to all Americans.  Today, the President took another important step toward bringing that change to Washington—and toward fulfilling his promise to have the most transparent government in history—by successfully resolving a longstanding dispute about missing White House emails dating from the previous Administration.

First a little background.  The missing email problem was first identified in 2005, when the Office of Administration conducted an internal analysis suggesting that millions of emails from the Executive Office of the President ("EOP"), created between March 2003 and October 2005, might be missing.  Approximately two years later, in September 2007, the National Security Archive ("NSA") and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics ("CREW") filed lawsuits against the EOP and the National Archives seeking to recover any missing emails.  The litigation continued for over a year, and involved numerous motions and other courtroom fights.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama made it a priority to resolve this dispute (which concerns the previous Administration's emails only).  The White House quickly began discussions with NSA and CREW, and the parties agreed to stay the litigation on March 31, 2009—a temporary pause, in the hopes of working things out. 

Today, the White House is pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement to settle the pending lawsuits.  As part of the agreement, the White House will restore millions of emails from back-up tapes related to at least 33 different days during the Bush Administration.  The millions of restored emails will be transferred to the National Archives.  They eventually will be made available to historians, students, and the general public under laws providing for the release of such documents from prior administrations.

The President is firmly committed to ensuring that the records of this Administration—as well as those of all previous administrations—are properly retained and preserved. We are pleased to see this matter reach an amicable resolution. We thank the EOP’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Justice Department for helping us resolve this case and ensure the preservation of this Administration’s emails. Also, we especially want to thank CREW and NSA for their hard work with us in bringing the case to a successful conclusion and in promoting openness in government.

Learn more about President Obama's Open Government Initiative.

Norm Eisen is special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform