A former White House contractor says in court papers unsealed Friday that she was warned not to reveal a problem with the White House e-mail system that concealed thousands of messages from the Justice Department and congressional investigators.
The contractor, Betty Lambuth, says a subordinate told her some of the e-mails deal with "Vice President Al Gore's involvement in campaign fund-raising controversies" and "the sale of Clinton Commerce Department trade mission seats in exchange for campaign contributions." The subordinate said the e-mails also contained information on the White House's improper gathering of FBI background files of long-ago Republican appointees and the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, Lambuth stated.
The document was unsealed by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth.
Lambuth says she learned of a problem with the White House e-mail system in May 1998 in the midst of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's perjury and obstruction probe of the president in the Lewinsky scandal.
Asked to comment Friday, the office of Starr's successor, independent counsel Robert Ray, said, "We are aware of the allegations regarding the e-mail issue, and we are taking appropriate steps with regard to those allegations.
"Beyond that we can't comment," said Neille Mallon Russell, a spokeswoman for Ray's office.
Because of the e-mail problem, which began in August 1996 in the midst of the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign, "a significant number of e-mails were . . . not being searched in response to subpoenas and document requests," Lambuth said.
"I learned that one of the computer e-mail servers, which housed incoming e-mail to much of the Clinton White House staff, approximately 500 individuals, was not being . . . managed" by the automated records system. The system allows text to be searched in response "to subpoenas and other inquiries," said Lambuth, who said the problem stemmed from "an apparent programming error."
After Lambuth informed the White House Office of Administration, counsel Mark Lindsay told her "that if I or any of my team who knew about the e-mail problem told anyone else about it we would lose our jobs, be arrested and put in jail," she said.
She said Lindsay specified that she was not to tell even her private-sector boss, Steve Hawkins, who she said eventually removed her from her White House assignment when she refused to tell him about the e-mail problem.
Lambuth said she and her co-workers dubbed the e-mail problem "Project X" and, because of the threats, she and her staff took to meeting in a park close to the New Executive Office Building and in a nearby Starbucks when discussing the matter.
Lambuth, who left the White House in July 1998, said she still works for CEXEC, a subcontractor for Northrop-Grumman that helps run and maintain the White House computer system.
"Lindsay and others on the Clinton White House staff who knew why I wasn't telling Hawkins about the e-mail problem never intervened with Hawkins to protect my job," Lambuth said in the declaration.
The White House, which has said it will complete an initial review of the e-mail matter next week, did not respond to repeated calls for comment regarding Lambuth's declaration.
Lambuth's declaration was released in a lawsuit on the FBI file controversy filed by a conservative group, Judicial Watch.
The e-mail problem was publicly revealed last month by a former White House employee, Sheryl Hall, who alleged in a declaration that "when the contractors told the White House about the problem, they were threatened, warned not to discuss it. They were told the documents were classified."
At a hearing Friday morning, the judge also unsealed a new declaration by Hall in which she said the White House plans to get rid of computer-taped archives and the contents of computer hard drives of presidential aides who leave.
A career staff member in the White House Office of Administration "told me that . . . the Clinton-Gore White House plans to destroy . . . archival cartridge tapes" and to "reformat the hard drives" of departing White House staffers, Hall said. She said there are archives for at least 500 departing staffers.
Lamberth ordered Justice Department lawyer James Gilligan, representing the White House in the case, to ensure that no hard drives are reformatted and no cartridges destroyed.
In addition, "I want names of those responsible for preserving" the material, said Lamberth. Gilligan provided the names of the White House custodians at a late-afternoon hearing in the case.