Are Bush Admin Computers a Crime Scene?

Dennis Faas's picture

David Gewirtz, author of 'Where Have All the Emails Gone?' reportedly wrote an open letter to President-elect Obama asking that his administration please treat the White House computers like crime scene evidence.

By failing to preserve official emails, the Bush White House has technically committed a federal crime by violating the Presidential Records Act and The Federal Records Act.

The first few weeks of the Obama Administration taking office are going to be critical in preserving that information. Forensic evidence needs to be gathered before it's lost in the flurry of incoming activity. (Source:

The letter goes on to note that any computers left behind -- not removed like they were by President George H.W. Bush's team -- could contain important information. Any of the computers or computer parts, such as hard drives and other media like flash and thumb drives, may contain traces of those famous missing white house emails. (Source:

Gewirtz's Letter Reiterates Many Important Issues

In Congressional testimony, Mr. Bush's CIO admitted that the Bush White House misplaced all email correspondence from the period of March 1 through May 23, 2003. This statement indicates the White House has broken two key federal laws: the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act.

The Bush White House may actually have "misplaced" as much as 225 days of email from 2003, according to an Office of Administration request for contractors' proposals.

When the Obama team enters the White House on January 20, the building is likely to be filled with the droppings and detritus of the previous administration, including old computers.

According to Gewirtz, incoming officials may just want to get to work and those computers are likely to be treated like old office equipment. But each computer the Obama team finds in the White House and the Executive Office Building (EOB) must be treated as evidence, catalogued and removed for forensic examination. Under no circumstances should anyone on the incoming team boot up those machines or use them since they might overwrite deleted files that could otherwise be recovered, noting that "they could possibly cover the few remaining tracks that might be available, the few possible clues to a period of real upheaval in our history."

He's right. The computers should be preserved, not only for the mishandling of emails, but for proof if it's determined that the Bush administration might have committed other high crimes and misdemeanors.

There is also the question, as noted by ZDNet, of whose duty it is to preserve that information. Is it the responsibility of the White House staff or the National Archives to preserve, respectful of the time limits necessary for presidential confidentiality, relevant content, communications trails, etc.?

More information on the missing White House emails can be found from

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