US Representative Henry A. Waxman, a Democrat from California, said a White House spokesman's comments suggesting no e-mails had disappeared conflicted with what congressional staff members 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.
In a letter announcing the hearing, Waxman cites the chart and its list of 12 days of unarchived e-mail from the White House Office, a unit of the Executive Office of the President, and 16 days of no archived e-mail for the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
According to the chart, no e-mails were archived in the Office of the Vice President in four of the first five days of October 2003 as a criminal investigation was heating up into who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
The probe eventually ensnared Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Waxman said that White House officials took the chart with them after briefing Waxman's investigators and that the officials indicated the White House was doing more analysis to determine whether the chart's information was accurate.
Yesterday, Ann Weismann, chief counsel for one of the private groups suing the White House over the e-mail controversy, said her sources tell her the chart was the product not of one person as the White House suggests, but rather represents the efforts of three teams of information technology specialists.
"In addition, my sources tell me that there are periods of time for which the volume of e-mail is significantly lower than is typically the case," said Weismann, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
For example, Weismann said, the expected e-mail volume for the White House Office in the Executive Office of the President is 60,000 to 100,000 daily, yet there are days for which the total volume was "as low as five daily e-mails."
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.
"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 had 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-mails are missing.
The White House's latest statements represent a shift from what it said last spring when it seemed uncertain whether e-mails were missing from the archives.
The latest statements also represent a shift from what the White House apparently told prosecutors more than two years ago in the probe into the leak of Wilson's name.
© 2008 The Associated Press