The Strange Story of 22 Million Misplaced White House Emails

How Bush-era emails were lost, which ones will be restored, when they'll be released, and why there were so many

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In 2007, two Washington, D.C. watchdog groups sued the White House for the release of millions of official emails that went mysteriously missing under President George W. Bush. Now, the White House has agreed to release the emails. The emails run from 2003 to 2005, covering some of Bush's biggest scandals and decisions, from the outing of CIA official Valerie Plame to the early days of the Iraq War. The deal will not see all emails from that period restored, but only those from 94 specific dates, some of which were chosen at random. The Washington Post reports that this is because restoring the emails from old backup tapes is an expensive and time-consuming process. They will not be available to the public until 2014 or later.

  • What Will We Learn of Plamegate? Marcy Wheeler notes this "includes almost all of the most suspect dates when email was missing, most notably the period (between September 29 and October 7, 2003) when Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby were working on a cover story in Jackson Hole. This is the period, remember, when Libby told Cheney the story he was going to tell the FBI-that he had learned of Plame's identity from Tim Russert, not from Cheney himself." She wants to see more released, "But this is a start, at least."
  • When They'll Be Released Talking Points Memo's Zachary Roth says it could be as late as 2022. "[U]nder the Presidential Records Act, they won't be made public for five years. But President Bush has broad latitude to direct the Archives to keep them secret for an additional seven years -- indeed, he may already have done so. Given the former president's record on issues of openness and transparency, it's a good bet he'll opt to do so," he writes. But any emails that are designated as "federal" rather than "presidential" could be released in as little as three years.
  • The Tech Behind The Emails TechPresident's Nancy Scola explains. Under review are the "emails that the Bush White House neglected to archive during the time it made a switch from a Lotus Notes e-mail system to a Microsoft Exchange system. The wobbly Clinton-era archiving technology that the Bush White House had in place wasn't, as it turned out, capable of automatically handling Exchange's .pst files. But the White House moved to the new system anyway. Under the arrangement reached yesterday, the Obama White House will focus on using backup tapes to restore emails from 94 calendar days identified by participants in the talks as unrepresented or underrepresented in the archives currently available."
  • How Many Emails a Day Is That? Gawker's Adrian Chen crunches the numbers, dividing by the number of days covered and the number of staffers involved. "So, we can make a rough estimate that each Bush staffer generated around a thousand emails per day--give or take a few hundred. Keep in mind this includes emails sent and received (and maybe a bunch of unwanted spam, too). But still, that's a lot of 'You know you're a Liberal if...' forwarded emails."
  • 'Probably in Alberto Gonzales' Pants' So says Wonkette's Ken Layne. "Some do-gooder group or another sued the White House for access to these obviously incriminating records of daily operations under Bush/Cheney, and whaddya know, 22 million emails were suddenly found, probably on a thumb drive in Alberto Gonzales' anus, just like in that William Gibson story. Once cleansed by technicians at the National Archives, all references to plotting and perpetuating 9/11, Iraq, Katrina and the assassination of Dumbledore will be removed."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.