Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Sometimes, You See, Email Really Does Get Lost

Posted: Updated:

An internal White House study has claimed that between 2003 and 2005, emails from 473 of those days are gone.

It kind of makes that excuse "the dog ate my homework" pale by comparison.

There are 730 days in the two years between 2003 and 2005. That means 65% of all emails have disappeared. (Actually, to be accurate, it's 64.79452%. But somehow, accuracy seems so beside-the-point here.)

In 1973, during Watergate, 18-1/2 minutes of a White House tape recording were missing. The public outcry was so massive, aghast at the sheer unbelievability and possible criminality of such a disappearance, that it was a critical piece in the impeachment trials of President Richard Nixon, ultimately leading to his resignation.

18-1/2 minutes? Tosh, that's a blink compared to 473 days of missing White House emails. This is 681,130 minutes. That's a buttload of minutes. You could impeach 3,6817 presidents with that many minutes.

The good news in all this, of course is that it means 257 days worth of emails weren't shredded. The bad news is that someone is going to get fired for not doing their job.

What's perhaps most wonderful about all this is that the Bush administration's Office of Administration is challenging the study in court. Why wonderful? The study was commissioned by -- the Bush Administration's Office of Administration. Honest. I'm not making this up. You can tell because when I make stuff up like this, my head doesn't explode.

Almost better than even this (almost, because it's pretty hard to top someone challenging themselves in court. The closest being Woody Allen cross-examining himself in the comedy farce, Bananas), almost better is beloved White House spokesman Tony Fratto's insistence that there's "no evidence" that the emails are missing.

Okay, he's sort of right. Missing emails aren't evidence.

You'd think it would be pretty easy for Mr. Fratto to end this. Just present the missing emails. Hey, just present one missing email. Given the number of offices in the White House and emails flying around, there have to be many millions. Just show one. It would be a great "Aha!!" moment. "You said there were 4,000,000,000 emails missing - but here's...one. Aha!!!" It would sure show them.

("Them" being the United States Congress, the American public, the world, and you.)

It's additionally fun - bizarre - unbelievable - criminal, take your pick - that, as the Washington Post notes, "Archived e-mails were missing from even more days in other parts of the White House." The Council on Environmental Quality and the Council of Economic Advisors "showed no stored e-mails for 2 1/2 months beginning in November 2003. The Office of Management and Budget showed no messages for 59 days - including the period from Nov. 1, 2003, to Dec. 9, 2003 -- and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative showed no e-mail for 73 days.

In legal terms, this is known as "pattern and practice." In Bush administration terms, this is known as business as usual.

There's a fine line between incompetence and intentional criminal acts. (No, there really isn't, I'm just being polite.) And this not only crosses the line, it dots the i's, leaps over the edge and buries itself deep into the bottomless pit of the earth's asthenosphere.

Anyone trying to excuse this egregious act of gross malfeasance is either a White House official, or an inmate at San Quentin trying to get clemency before being hauled off to Death Row.

Admit it, if you wanted just one piece of information from someone, and they said they lost it, your eyes would role. If someone tried to pull 473 days-worth of missing paperwork, you'd be on your phone to the local cop before even pausing to ask, "What are you hiding??!"

What, did no one at the White House ever notice anything was gone? No one ever did any research for those 473 days? No one checked an earlier email for that really funny joke Dick Cheney sent them?

But see, there's an even more massive issue here, even if one is so constipated that they could excuse this unbelievable act. All White House records must be maintained that are presidential or federal records. It's the law. Everyone in the White House knows this. It's hard to miss: it's called the Presidential Records Act. To think, therefore, that they could just lose 473 days of emails and be okay does not stretch the bounds of credibility, it breaks the laws of physics.

Houdini wouldn't have tried a disappearing act this brazen. It's the difference between a great magic trick and brazenly telling the audience to its face you think they're dullards. The latter gets you tarred-and-feathered, and then run out of town on a rail.

C'mon, Mr. Fratto, just one piece of email from those missing 681,130 minutes. One.

An email request was sent to Tony Fratto, asking for an explanation.

Unfortunately, it is missing.