Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., says a White House spokesman's comments suggesting no e-mail had disappeared conflicted with what congressional staffers were told in September.
On Thursday night, Waxman said he was scheduling a hearing for Feb. 15 and challenged the White House to explain spokesman Tony Fratto's remark that "we have absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing."
Fratto based his comment on the contents of a White House declaration filed in federal court casting doubt on the accuracy of a chart created by a former White House employee that points to a large volume of e-mail gone from White House servers.
The brief description of the chart in the sworn declaration appears to match Waxman's description of what White House officials showed his staff at a Sept. 19 briefing.
There are 16 days of no archived e-mails from Sept. 12, 2003, to May 23, 2005, for the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, according to Waxman's letter announcing the hearing. There are a dozen days of no archived e-mails for the White House Office inside the EOP, starting Dec. 17, 2003, and ending on Feb. 8, 2004, Waxman's letter added.
Waxman said the White House officials took the chart on which the information is based with them, while indicating the White House was doing an additional analysis to determine whether the information in the chart was accurate.
Asked to testify are White House Counsel Fred Fielding; Alan Swendiman, director of the White House Office of Administration, and Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States.
Waxman called the hearing after Fratto tried to tamp down the growing e-mail controversy.
Fratto's comments shifted away from White House statements last spring that expressed uncertainty over whether the allegations were true or not.
"We tried to reconstruct some of the work" in the chart and "could not authenticate the correctness of the data," said Fratto. "We have no evidence and we have no way of showing that any e-mail at all are missing."
The existence of the chart surfaced Tuesday night in the White House declaration filed in lawsuits brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the private National Security Archive.
The declaration, which the White House was forced to file pursuant to court order, disclosed that before October 2003, the White House recycled computer backup tapes containing e-mail. Such a process would overwrite large numbers of e-mails. The White House said it began preserving backup tapes in October 2003, but recycled them before then.
If the chart of e-mail missing from archives turns out to be accurate, the backup tapes should contain substantially all e-mails sent or received in the 2003-2005 time period, the White House court declaration said.
"We have no reason to believe that there is any data missing at all" from White House computer servers, said Fratto. "And we've certainly found no evidence of any data missing."
The court declaration said the White House was undertaking an independent assessment of a chart to determine whether any e-mail is missing.
The White House's latest statements represent a shift from what it was saying last spring when it seemed uncertain whether e-mail was missing from the archives or not. The latest statements also represent a shift from what the White House apparently told prosecutors over two years ago in the probe into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name.
In January 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald reported that "we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."
The White House says the e-mail matter arose in October 2005 in connection with the Justice Department's CIA leak probe. Fitzgerald revealed it to the public three months later in preparations for the trial of Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was later convicted of four felonies in the Plame affair. President Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison term.