WASHINGTON – Karl Rove's lawyer on Friday dismissed the notion that President Bush's chief political adviser intentionally deleted his own e-mails from a Republican-sponsored computer system.
The attorney said Rove believed the communications were being preserved in accordance with the law.
The issue arose because the White House and Republican National Committee have said they may have lost e-mails from Rove and other administration officials. Democratically chaired congressional committees want those e-mails for their probe of the firings of eight federal prosecutors.
"His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said.
The prosecutor probing the Valerie Plame spy case saw and copied all of Rove's e-mails from his various accounts after searching Rove's laptop, his home computer, and the handheld computer devices he used for both the White House and Republican National Committee, Luskin said.
The prosecutor, Patrick 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.
Any e-mails Rove deleted were the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly, Luskin said. He said Rove had no idea the e-mails were being deleted from the server, a central computer that managed the e-mail.
The mystery of the missing e-mails is just one part of a furor over the firings of eight federal prosecutors that has threatened Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job and thrown his Justice Department into turmoil.
For now, Bush is standing by his longtime friend from Texas, who has spent weeks huddled in his fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department preparing to tell his story to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Democrats are questioning whether any White House officials purposely sent e-mails about official business on the RNC server — then deleted them, in violation of the law — to avoid scrutiny.
White House officials said the administration is making an aggressive effort to recover anything that was lost. "We have no indications that there was improper intent when using these RNC e-mails," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Luskin said Rove didn't know that deleting e-mails from his RNC inbox also deleted them from the RNC's server. That system was changed in 2005.
Such a configuration is uncommon and makes recovering e-mails "immeasurably harder," said retired FBI computer crimes specialist Joseph Dooley.
"It happens on occasion but usually you're not deleting things off the server," Dooley said. "That's highly unusual."
Rove voluntarily allowed investigators in the Plame case to review his laptop and copy the entire hard drive, from which investigators could have recovered even deleted e-mails, Luskin said.
As the investigation was winding down, Luskin said, prosecutors came to his office and reviewed all the documents — including e-mails — he had collected to be sure both sides had a complete set.
Luskin said if Fitzgerald believed any e-mails were destroyed, he would have called. Fitzgerald's office declined comment.