WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Friday received an additional 2,400 pages of e-mails, schedules, memos and other documents with details of the decision to replace eight U.S. attorneys, whose firings last December led to a congressional probe about whether politics motivated the dismissals.
Senate Judiciary Committee aides said they do not expect more documents from the Justice Department or the White House, even though the administration is under pressure to retrieve e-mails that may have been automatically purged from its own and Republican National Committee files.
Many government officials keep separate e-mail accounts to create a wall between their government service and political business, as required by law. Some 50 past and current White House aides had RNC accounts.
One such official is Bush aide Karl Rove, whose communications prior to 2005 are no longer on the RNC network server, according to counsel there. Before that time, deleted e-mails were automatically removed from the servers every 30 days, RNC officials explained.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he was told by RNC lawyer Rob Kelner that the Republican group started preserving Rove's e-mails because of legal action being considered against him at the time relating to the leak of CIA employee Valerie Plame. But nothing before August 2004 is available.
Rove's attorney Robert Luskin said the White House aide was unaware that the e-mails were being deleted from the Republican-sponsored server. He dismissed suggestions that Rove intentionally deleted those e-mails.
"His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Luskin said.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the CIA leak probe, saw and copied Rove's e-mails from several accounts, Luskin said. Fitzgerald subpoenaed the e-mails from the White House, the RNC and Bush's re-election campaign, he added.
"There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record," Luskin said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that as many as 5 million e-mails overall could have been purged from office servers, though she couldn't give a remotely accurate count since more than 1,700 people have e-mail accounts at the White House.
She said it was her understanding that the potential remains for some of Rove's e-mails at the RNC to be retrieved because of the mechanism used to preserve his account. She reiterated that there's no indication of improper use of these accounts at this point.
Late Thursday, counsel Fred Fielding wrote to committee leaders that the White House is doing all it can to produce any missing documents.
"We are aware that certain e-mail accounts supplied by the Republican National Committee may have been used by White House officials in sending or receiving e-mails that might fall within the production contemplated in our letter," Fielding wrote in a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "Please be assured that it was and remains our intention to collect e-mails and documents from those accounts as well as the official White House e-mail and document retention system, for production under the terms we outlined."
But despite claims that they are doing their best, Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, accused the White House of stonewalling, saying even a child could unearth the missing e-mails.
"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" Leahy said from the Senate floor on Thursday. "You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there; they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."
Leahy's panel on Thursday authorized — but did not issue — subpoenas for more documents and testimony from top Justice Department official William Moschella and Scott Jennings, an aide to Rove.
Leahy and Committee ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter have asked that the White House establish "a fair and objective process for investigating this matter, including the use of a mutually trusted computer forensic expert."
The uproar over the firings comes from Democrats who suggest that the dismissals were connected with political corruption and voter fraud investigations. Bush administration officials have denied that, saying some of those fired had performance problems and pointing out that presidents have wide latitude to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.
The fight has threatened the job of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is scheduled to testify before a Senate panel on Tuesday. Former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson was scheduled to talk to House and Senate Judiciary Committee staffers on Friday, but his appearance was canceled due to the delayed dump of documents to Capitol Hill.
Among the early e-mails that have been reviewed are ones from Sampson and former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling, who also resigned over the dust-up. A source on the House Judiciary Committee said it is curious that some of the newly-received documents contain exchanges from those "key players" though in the early review of the documents, committee staff have not seen "anything heart-stopping yet."
In one case of a dismissed prosecutor whose four-year term had already expired, Sampson suggests replacing Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan with Rachel Brand. Brand is an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy and formerly was an associate counsel to President Bush.
One newly released document was being touted by Democrats as evidence that the prosecutors' conservative credentials were important to the Justice Department.
One Justice Department spreadsheet on the qualifications of the sitting federal prosecutors shows that along with prosecution experience, political experience and judicial experience, the U.S. attorneys were judged on whether they were members of the conservative Federalist Society.
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, founded by conservative law students, now claims 35,000 members, including prominent members of the Bush administration, the federal judiciary and Congress.
Among those prosecutors noted for being members: Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota whose office suffered a revolt this month when three lawyers resigned their management posts. Paulose earlier had served as a top Justice Department counsel and special assistant to Gonzales.
One of the eight prosecutors who were fired, Kevin Ryan of San Francisco, also was a member of the conservative group, according to the document.
The missing e-mails posed some of the weightiest questions of a sprawling political and legal conflict between the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress.
FOX News' Molly Hooper, Ian McCaleb, Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.