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Burden of Proof

Justice Dept. Launches Probe of White House E-Mails

Aired March 24, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETTY LAMBUTH, NORTHRUP GRUMMAN: They did tell me that if any of us did talk about this, they basically threatened us that my staff would be fired, would go to jail.

MARK LINDSAY, WHITE HOUSE MANAGEMENT AND ADMIN. OFFICE: I can state to you quite emphatically and quite clearly, it's not something that I did, it's not something that I would condone, and it's not something that I would ever permit to happen.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHMN., GOVT. REFORM CMTE.: The White House counsel's office has known since sometime in 1998 that they were not in compliance with subpoenas from us, the Justice Department, and the independent counsels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: The Justice Department launches a new investigation of the Clinton administration. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, the White House e-mail controversy.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today. He'll be back Monday. And I'm in Atlanta.

CNN has learned that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of a White House e-mail controversy. Administration officials have acknowledged that some e-mail messages subpoenaed in congressional and other investigations went unrecorded in the primary e-mail system. According to the White House, a computer glitch is at the core of the problem.

Joining us today here in Atlanta is Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr. In Washington, we're joined by former House General Counsel Stan Brand. And also in Washington, John Triggs of Hi-Tech Solutions. And joining us from Capitol Hill is CNN congressional correspondent Bob Franken.

Bob, what are these e-mails, and why are they so important?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question. Are the e-mails, in fact, material that was relevant to various investigations that have been conducted over the years? campaign finance being the one that probably is most note worthy now. And did the White House, in fact, withhold them knowingly, or at least drag the feet in providing this material knowing that it was supposed to be turned over to various investigators.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Bob, take me back. You know, who wanted what e-mails and how long ago? Take me back to the beginning.

FRANKEN: Well, the beginning is just about just the beginning of the Clinton administration. Just about everybody wanted every bit of e-mail relevant to the investigations that have gone on. Most notably -- this is important, Greta -- the campaign finance investigation around 1996, '97, and now we're finding out that the vice president's e-mails may have been, in fact, among those that were lost, and that means that perhaps there is a possibility that some of the material involved in the campaign finance investigation was not turned over. What's important about that is it's the Justice Department campaign finance task force that is opening its investigation to find out if material was intentionally withheld or if, in fact, it was just innocently withheld after that big computer glitch.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, are they looking at the content or is the issue that the subpoena -- when this material was subpoenaed, it was never provided. Is there something sinister about the content of the e-mails, as far as we know?

FRANKEN: They don't know. What the -- many people seem to be saying is that there seemed to be an effort -- on the part of the Republicans, in particular -- they have a suspicion that there was an effort to just keep this material back, not to find out what it was, to not inform properly the various investigators that it should be turned over. They clearly do not know exactly what is on that material. They don't know if they complied with subpoenas or not. A question would be whether they had an assertive responsibility to tell people about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me turn to Congressman Bob Barr.

Congressman Barr, I mean, the two issues for me is whether or not something sinister was done, something was deliberately withheld, and, secondly, what the content -- if the content suggests something sinister. Do you think there's anything sinister in these e-mails that you don't have on your committee?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Well, of course the third question that I presume we'll get to is also the intimidation and the obstruction of justice and the possible tampering. We can leave that for a little later discussion. But it's highly suspicious, Greta. Something smells here. Have you -- let's give them the benefit of the doubt. It was a computer glitch that caused about a two-year gap in the White House information system.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you don't think that they deliberately did something. It's just a -- it's an accident, it's a glitch. You accept that? BARR: We don't have any evidence to the contrary at this point. I'm saying let's presume that it was an innocent mistake. I mean, there may be something that comes out later on that. I don't know. But let's presume it was an innocent mistake that created a two-year window during which time all sorts of e-mails which clearly were relevant -- some of them -- to investigations -- because we know, at a bear minimum, they involved Monica Lewinsky, the subject of the independent counsel's work, the subject of the impeachment committee's work and so forth.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you know that if you don't have them? What information do you have that it did relate to Monica Lewinsky or to the campaign finance investigation?

BARR: Sworn evidence yesterday, sworn testimony yesterday. The White House employee, Mr. Barry (ph), testified that when this first came to his attention in very early 1998, in January sometime -- and he memorialized this in a document -- he noticed that there was -- there were incoming e-mails and outgoing e-mails but something in the middle was missing. You know, you have a question and another question and you don't have the answer. So he suspected something was wrong, and that's what started all of this.

So he went back and he was able to find one of them and, bingo, it was Monica Lewinsky. Then, later on, once the computer people started looking into this, the tasking came down to look into certain individuals to see whether or not they were part of this. Monica Lewinsky was one of the names. And Mr. Haas (ph), one of the witnesses yesterday, testified that, in going back and reconstructing some of this, he was able to pull out thousands just in the period of time that he looked. Those were delivered by this fellow Mark Lindsay yesterday, and they have mysteriously disappeared.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Congressman Barr, I read even CNN's own reports that says White House officials failed to turn this over. You're not suggesting or your committee doesn't think it was the president but rather some people down the chain of command, is that right?

BARR: That's right. What we have is we have these two White House witnesses yesterday, including the lawyer, Mr. Lindsay. He acknowledges that he got a box of materials. He now has us believe that he didn't look at it, he didn't open it, he just blindly delivered it to somebody, he doesn't even remember who, at the White House counsel's office, and then they disappeared.

VAN SUSTEREN: Stan Brand, do you think this is politics or is this a serious problem?

STAN BRAND, FORMER HOUSE GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, Greta, you know how hard it is to prove obstruction of justice. This administration has been under congressional and independent counsel assault on this ground from virtually the day it came to office and yet no one's ever been charged or convicted of any of that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that may very well be, Stan, but, you know, whether these e-mails are inconsequential and maybe just, you know, worthless to the investigation, nonetheless, they were subpoenaed and supposed to be turned over.

BRAND: Well, I was glad to here Congressman Barr say that it began with a glitch. You know, there has to be evidence that someone intended to withhold this material, that it was material to the inquiry at hand, and only then would you have a case made out for an obstruction.

BARR: I would disagree. As you know, Greta, it does not have to be admissible, it doesn't have to be part of an ongoing investigation for there to be obstruction. And the fact that it may have been a computer glitch at the beginning that started all this is utterly irrelevant to obstruction because the point is, once the White House discovered this, once they knew what was going on, that's when they intimidated these witnesses into not telling anybody. That's the obstruction.

BRAND: Well, that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob Franken...

BRAND: That's a separate...

VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead, Stan.

BRAND: That's a separate issue. I also heard testimony yesterday from someone who said they did not hear anyone say any such thing. That's obviously something the Department of Justice is going to have to sort out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob Franken, just tell me who are these contractors? Why do we have contractors in the White House who were working on the e-mail system?

FRANKEN: Well, just like so many areas of government, oftentimes expert work is done by private contractors. And that was the case here with the computer where you're talking about Northrop Grumman which had the contract to come in and try and correct this e-mail problem.

By the way, it's instructive how it started. Somebody, instead of typing all uppercase letters for a command -- or, rather, instead of typing upper- and lowercase letters for a command, typed all uppercase, and that's what caused all of this. Makes you sort of ponder how you use your computer.

VAN SUSTEREN: It sure does.

We're going to take a break. Up next, storing and retrieving e- mail: Is there a way to prove intent on behalf of the White House?

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On Thursday, Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said his department is discussing conditions for giving John and Patsy Ramsey a lie detector test. The Ramseys volunteered to take the test in recent media interviews.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

The Justice Department's campaign finance task force has opened a new criminal probe of the White House. At issue: missing e-mails which were subpoenaed for investigations of the Clinton administration and the president.

John Triggs, who is of Hi-Tech Solutions.

John, tell me about e-mail. If it's deleted is it gone forever?

JOHN TRIGGS, INFORMATION SYSTEMS ENGINEER: No, that's not necessarily true. It's very difficult. A lot depends on the company or organization where the e-mail is sent from or the recipient's organization. Basically, many organizations actually delete the e- mail immediately after it's sent from the center or some keep it for around 90 days for some documentation and delete it a little later. But in the case of the White House, they kind of saved their e-mail and archive it, and turn it into a searchable database. They see it as an informational asset. So it's not really able to -- the e-mail is there, it's searchable.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of this glitch that the White House and Congressman Barr concedes that it appears at this point to be a glitch in turning over the e-mail. What do you make of this? Is it recoverable?

TRIGGS: Yes, it definitely is recoverable. Again, in this glitch, glitches are common in pretty much every software application. I think it's one of the things we're going to have to accept with our society's increasing reliance on technology. I mean,just look at Amazon and eBay, those sites kind of go down frequently. So these problems are going to creep up, and this is very recoverable by the White House. In fact, I understand that they do have all these e- mails saved and stored on backup disk drives. The cost and the time that they are saying will just be involved in recovering it, and turning into searchable intelligent information.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, in fact, White House counsel Beth Nolan has sent a letter to Congressman Burton and said that it would cost between $1 million and $3 million and take as long as two years to recover the documents, but that they can be recovered.

Stan Brand, do you think that this is going to -- that there will be further investigation, or is this going to be a one-time deal? We are going to hear a lot about it, but once we got to the bottom of the e-mails and figure out that it wasn't sinister, it was a glitch, that would be the end of it?

BRAND: Well, it seems there is never a one-time investigation, and I am sure that Chairman Burton, when he's not subpoenaing Elian Gonzalez or some other enterprise, will find yet another situation to investigate and explore, and I'm sure will be doing this next year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob Franken, this seems to have started with an organization named Judicial Watch, which has filed a number of civil suits. Who are they? and how do they relate to this discussion of the e-mails?

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, Judicial Watch is an organization that has devoted a lot of time to filing lawsuits against the Clinton administration, and in this particular case, has filed several lawsuits involving this e-mail, and charges that, in fact, the e-mail was lost and perhaps withheld originated with the lawsuits.

There's an interesting development now, now that the Justice Department task force has gotten into the act. The Justice Department has gone to the judge, the federal judge, and asked that the civil suit in effect be suspended while the Justice Department conducts its investigation. The judge is going to rule on that after a hearing later in the day.

VAN SUSTEREN: Stan, do you know anything about Judicial Watch?

BRAND: I sure do, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what -- I mean, this is an organization that has a number of lawsuits filed against members -- people who work at the White House?

BRAND: It's an organization that self-appointed gadfly to harass Clinton administration officials with lawsuits, having been in many depositions with Mr. Klayman and myself.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Barr, what do you make of Judicial Watch? I mean, this is an organization that has filed a number of lawsuits against the White House, and in fact seems to be the bulk of their case load?

BARR: Well, the White House takes them seriously because they are very effective. And one measure of how seriously the White House takes them is that they have launched this so-called "criminal probe." It's another one of the bogus criminal probes by the Clinton Department of Justice.

Whenever a congressional probe or a civil lawsuit by such as these by Judicial Watch gets a little too close and they feel the heat a little bit, they tell Janet Reno: Declare that you are conducting a criminal probe here. So they issue a statement saying they are conducting a criminal probe and then they use that as a shield behind which not to provide discoverable material and not to honor subpoenas from the Congress.

It is shameless obstruction and they are doing it again. They've done it a number of times, and this is the latest example.

You were talking, if I could, a moment ago about the cost of this. It is very interesting, the White House lawyer that we had there yesterday, denied that it was a problem of not having enough money or not having enough personnel. They just haven't bothered to do this, to go back and try and retrieve these e-mails.

VAN SUSTEREN: Stan, you want to respond to what Bob Barr just said. I'm sure that you have something to say about...

BRAND: As Bob knows, as a former U.S. attorney, it's quite common in a civil case when there is a criminal parallel probe, for the Justice Department to seek a stay. That is done all the time. So while I know he sees a conspiracy behind every hearing, it's a common occurrence that when a criminal issue arises in a civil case, the civil case is stayed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we're going to take a break.

Up next, what's next? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: What new Megan's Law guidelines in New Jersey have been ordered by a federal judge?

A: Citizens modified that a convicted sex offender is moving into their community will have in pledge not to reveal the information.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: The criminal investigation of the White House was prompted by a civil lawsuit filed by the conservative group "Judicial Watch." But now, the probe is under the wing of the Justice Department, and potentially a congressional probe.

Stan, where should this investigation be? We have three -- what I see as essentially three issues: whether there was sinister content in the e-mail, and it doesn't, at least appear at this point that there was; the failure to comply with the subpoena for the e-mails; and finally, whether or not there were threats and obstruction of justice. Who should do this? We don't have an independent counsel. So should it be the Justice Department, Capitol Hill, who?

BRAND: Well, thank God we don't have independent counsels anymore. It can only be done by the Justice Department. And they've done these from time in memorium. I have no doubt that they can do these, as they have done them throughout both Republican and Democratic administrations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Barr, who should conduct the investigation in your mind? Stan says the Justice Department. BARR: Well, I mean, Stan and I agree on our -- you know, neither of us like the independent counsel; I think it had become overly broad, misused, and so forth.

The problem is that these are not real probes. This Department of Justice will not probe these matters, Greta. That's the problem. There are...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you say that? I mean, in the Justice Department...

BARR: Well, we've seen it...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... you've got career prosecutors. I mean, I used to go up against the Justice Department.

BARR: ... but, the decisions are being made at the top levels, and those are political appointees. Look at the Wen Ho Lee case; look at the Filegate case, where...

VAN SUSTEREN: He's under investigation, Wen Ho Lee.

BARR: The problem was, he was not allowed to be -- the FBI was thwarted in their efforts to get a FISA, Federal -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillant Act -- warrant on him...

BRAND: He was indicted 100 times.

BARR: ... because...

VAN SUSTEREN: And let's not forget: he's also presumed innocent, too...

BARR: ... well, the problem is...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... there is that aspect.

BARR: ... the evidence-gathering phase of the operation of the investigation, that normally would be routine, was stopped by the attorney general. These are political decisions. We saw the LaBella memo and the Freeh memo on the corruption scandals stopped.

This Department of Justice will not investigate these cases. Ultimately, that's the last fire wall that we have, and it's broken down.

VAN SUSTEREN: Boy, I -- you know, I don't know if I agree with you, Congressman Barr, because I'll tell you: I went up against the Justice Department many times, and you do have a political appointee at the top of every Justice Department, the attorney general. But there are, literally, hundreds and hundreds of career prosecutors from both parties. And...

BARR: And they're fine prosecutors. And there are thousands of cases that they handle every year. But we're not talking about those thousands of cases; we're talking about very sensitive top-level political-type cases that aren't being handled...

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob...

BRAND: There is no evidence...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... go ahead, Stan.

BRAND: ... they haven't handled this one yet. You have to give them a chance to do the investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob Franken, what's going to happen on Capitol Hill in the investigation with the Burton committee?

FRANKEN: Well, you can be assured that the Burton committee is going to make sure that the issue is kept alive. It's fueled by a suspicion on the part of the administration's adversaries that the Clinton lawyers have always found every way that they could to drag their feet, slow things down, oftentimes delaying past an election. And there is a suspicion this time that all of this is designed by the Republicans, a suspicion, that all of this is designed to get past next November, to in fact not allow any embarrassing revelations to be part of the election mix.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the flip side suspicion also cast out there, Bob, that -- are the Democrats suspecting that this issue has risen over these e-mails for political reasons as well. Is it going both ways?

FRANKEN: Be still my heart, you bet. And as a matter of fact, the Gore people have been very quick to say this, that this is just another example of the Republicans trying to use the legal system for a political end. It's the debate that has been going on since the beginning of the Clinton administration.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Bob Barr, what's the plan with the Burton committee? What are you going to do from here?

BARR: Well, there are additional witnesses. We didn't get through them all yesterday. So there will be additional hearings. The key will be whether or not, as I mentioned earlier, the Clinton Justice Department will now use the so-called "criminal probe" to not comply with further subpoenas. So we may have a real crisis down the road.

VAN SUSTEREN: Stan Brand, does it seem to you the issue of whether or not there is obstruction or threats to these contract that it's a he says/she says or is there any evidence to back up what this woman says she was threatened.

BRAND: Well, that will be the key. I mean, somebody's got to, you know, take these witnesses into the grand jury and question them, and find out: Is there corroboration for these statements? I've seen contradictory statements in the press, that's what the investigation will be about.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman Barr, in the 15 seconds, do you have corroboration of the woman's allegation that she was threatened?

BARR: Well, we have five different witnesses that said it yesterday. You know, if you want to stack those up against the other two, I agree with Stan, I mean, ultimately, it's going to be the weight of their credibility. But we had five witnesses that to one extent or another said there were threats made, some including said that there were threats that they would be thrown in jail.

VAN SUSTEREN: And this is an ongoing investigation, and we'll have to wait to see what happens. But that's all the time we have for today.

Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Stay tuned to CNN today for "TALKBACK LIVE." Today's topic: shutdown threats at US Airways. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

And mark your calendar for Tuesday, April 4. Our special guest will be Linda Russell, she is the mother of Susan Smith, and she is here for a rare interview. And she's authored a new book on the tragic loss of her two grandsons.

Join us Monday for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger will be back. And we'll see you then.

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