WASHINGTON - The White House does not have to make public internal documents examining the potential disappearance of e-mails sent during some of the Bush administration's biggest controversies, a US District Court judge ruled yesterday.
In a 39-page opinion, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said yesterday that the White House's Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, even though its top officials had complied with the public records law for more than two decades.
The Office of Administration, which performs a variety of services for the Executive Office of the President, announced it would no longer comply with the act last August, three months after an independent watchdog group had filed a lawsuit seeking to discover what happened to the e-mails, which may have vanished from White House computer archives.
Acknowledging that the issue "is a close one, and is not easily resolved," Kollar-Kotelly wrote that the Office of Administration "lacks the type of substantial independent authority" necessary for it to fall under the act. She added that the office performs mostly administrative functions, which also exempts it, and that past compliance with the act was "insufficient by itself" to subject it to the law's requirements.
Kollar-Kotelly dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.
The White House has been criticized by congressional Democrats, historians, and watchdog groups over alleged sloppy retention of e-mails between 2001 and 2005, a period that included the Iraq war.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House "welcomed" the decision.
The citizens group's executive director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement that "we are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion."
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the group, said it will appeal.
She said she is worried that without prompt judicial action, the records will not become public "for many years" after President Bush leaves office.