The inventor of the Internet, Vice President Al Gore, who wears a Palm Pilot on his belt and wants to wire every library and classroom to the World Wide Web, has lost copies of his e-mail messages between March 1998 and April 1999. And wouldn't you know it, those e-mails just happen to be the ones subpoenaed by a House committee and a federal grand jury in their continuing investigations of campaign-finance abuses and other matters. A White House official blames a "technical error" for the failure to back up the vice president's e-mails. Another White House official stated earlier that the subpoenaed e-mails had, in fact, been retrieved but that it would take awhile to sort them out and find the relevant ones. Mr. Gore told reporters on the campaign trail who questioned him, "I remember asking them, 'What in the world happened?'" It would strain credulity to believe another story like this. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who has been tirelessly investigating administration wrongdoing, said the White House counsel's office initially certified that the committee had been given all of the e-mail documents it requested and then "led us to believe" that the missing documents "had been saved on thousands of backup tapes." Now the White House explanation is that the tapes don't exist because of the failure of a contractor to add a new e-drive to the vice president's backup taping system. Richard Nixon would never have gotten away with such an explanation, but the media seem to accept the phony-sounding excuses of his successors. Does anyone believe that prior to and during the impeachment of President Clinton his lawyers didn't go through everything that could potentially be used against Mssrs. Clinton and Gore? Given the level of truth-telling in this administration, does anyone believe it would not have occurred to someone to get rid of anything, including e-mails, that might cause legal trouble at the highest levels? The gap in one of Richard Nixon's surreptitiously recorded conversations with his staff was a mere 18H minutes. The gap in Al Gore's e-mails is one year. The press screamed about the 18H-minute gap in the Nixon tape, suggesting he or an aide had erased a significant conversation. It speculated that the gap probably contained incriminating evidence that Nixon had obstructed justice. Not a questioning peep is heard from today's journalists about how Mr. Gore's people might have conveniently lost the vice president's e-mails in order to keep incriminating evidence from the eyes of investigators. Mr. Gore is credited with wiring this White House and updating both internal and external communications to a new level. How, then, do documents serially and conveniently disappear (or reappear) and what else of importance is missing? If "contractors" and lower level employees are to be blamed, what kind of people does the administration have working for it? It would appear that the place is populated with unskilled workers. Factor in the failure of employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to report for three weeks missing hard drives containing nuclear secrets and you have still another potential scandal added to the stained record of this administration. What adds credence to suspicions of new administration malfeasance is testimony given to the House Government Reform Committee in March by a group of Northrop Grumman employees. They were among those working on the White House computer system. Three of them testified they were threatened with jail if they mentioned the missing e-mail messages to anyone. One of them, Betty Lambuth, former manager of the Lotus Notes Group at the White House, testified she was told that if she or any of her associates mentioned the error, "we would lose our jobs, be arrested and put in jail." Another employee, Robert Haas, said he was told there was "a jail cell with my name on it" if he even mentioned it to his wife. That's the level of integrity we've had to accept in this administration, and that's why Mr. Gore's story that the subpoenaed e-mails are lost and irretrievable is about as credible as the vice president's promises to clean up the slum house he owns in Tennessee. Come to think of it, has anyone checked the cause of that home's toilet backup? Maybe the missing e-mails are there.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate