WASHINGTON --The Justice Department has launched a criminal inquiry into the White House's mishandling of e-mail correspondence that may have been relevant to congressional and independent counsel subpoenas on matters ranging from campaign fund-raising to the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, according to court papers.
At issue in the Justice probe is the White House's response when officials there learned in 1998 that a computer system, apparently because of inadvertent programming errors, had failed to keep an archive of thousands of e-mails sent to some 500 White House employees from outsiders.
Employees for the private contractor that ran the e-mail archive have alleged that administration officials threatened them to keep quiet about the missing records. And lawmakers have complained that even after senior White House officials learned of the problem, they never notified congressional committees about potential gaps in the records they turned over.
In a separate computer problem whose dimensions were revealed for the first time Thursday, the White House counsel disclosed that a vast quantity of e-mail from and to Vice President Gore and his staff was never properly recorded-and therefore was never reviewed to determine if it was relevant to investigations of Democratic fund-raising abuses in 1996.
Gore's operation is not the focus of the Justice criminal probe. But White House counsel Beth Nolan's revelation of serious technical flaws in the vice president's computers has clear political implications-because it is sure to spur Republican demands for a more intensive investigation of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's role in the 1996 campaign.
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