Exclusive: CNN Chairman Denies Spiking White House E-Mail Story

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

CNSNews.com Exclusive

(CNSNews.com) - Cable news giant CNN says it needs more "corroborating evidence" before airing a taped interview with a former White House employee who said thousands of White House e-mails -- containing information on "Filegate," campaign finance abuses, "Chinagate," and Monica Lewinsky -- were never turned over to a federal grand jury or three congressional committees that had subpoenaed them.

CNN said Sheryl Hall's story "lacks independent, corroborating evidence," but the network said it will continue to follow the story as it develops.

Hall formerly managed computer operations for the White House. She now works at the US Treasury Department, and she is suing first lady Hillary Clinton and other White House staffers for harassing her and demoting her after she complained about the alleged misuse of the White House Office Database.

In an affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, Hall said that Northrop Grumman employees -- working at the White House under a computer contract -- were forced by White House higher-ups to keep silent about their discovery of e-mails that had been subpoenaed but never turned over.

The Northrop Grumman workers discovered that because of a computer glitch, a White House effort to find the subpoenaed e-mails was incomplete. When the when the contractors told White House staffers what they discovered, they allegedly were threatened with reprisals -- being fired or arrested -- if they told anyone else about the problem.

Even when they were discovered, the White House e-mails - more than 100,000 documents, according to Hall -- were never surrendered as the various subpoenas demanded.

In fact, the "missing" e-mails reportedly were referred to by senior administration officials as "Project X" and were re-labeled as classified documents.

Last week, federal Judge Royce Lamberth gave the White House two weeks to produce the subpoenaed-but-never-surrendered e-mails. He said he will "hang" any White House staffers if they erase the e-mail files.

Several media outlets suggested CNN and ABC News are sitting on the story by refusing to air interviews with Hall that already had been taped. But CNN defended its decision, saying the interview did not meet its editorial standards.

"After thoroughly investigating her allegations and not finding any other corroborating sources, we made an editorial decision not to broadcast the story," CNN Chairman Tom Johnson told CNSNews.com. "We took the issue seriously enough to do the interview with Ms. Hall, in which she herself acknowledges that she did not have any direct information."

A Capitol Hill source confirmed to CNSNews.com that Hall's affidavit is "largely secondhand information but she has helped bring this to light. The keys to unlocking this story are the Northrop Grumman employees."

Next week, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will hold hearings on the missing e-mails, and as part of those hearings, the Committee has subpoenaed the Northrop Grumman employees, said Mark Corallo, press secretary to Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN).

"We have interviewed several of the employees in question and will subpoena them to appear before the committee," Corallo told CNSNews.com. "We have found that these people were threatened by the White House."

CNN's Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno told CNSNews.com its "editorial staff pursued its standard editorial process" - that is, "collaboration among senior editorial personnel, including the correspondent working on it [the story], to determine that this was something we looked into but that it did not get sufficient independent corroboration to put it on the air."

Sesno did say that as the story continues to develop, CNN "will pursue it."

An ABC News producer, who asked to not be named, said that network also has done an interview with Hall but added "it's premature" as to when it will air.

The producer told CNSNews.com that all of Hall's claims are supported in the affidavits filed by the Northrop Grumman employees who did contract work at the White House.

The ABC News source said it is "interesting" that the Northup Grumman employees "backed up her [Hall's] story."

"Depending on the developments and what the White House does in response to Judge [Royce] Lamberth's order, we're watching the story. We're putting all of our ducks in a row, but at this point we do not have an air date. We're waiting for developments," said the source.

Hall has said previously that she was told the e-mails contain "incriminating" information about the Clinton White House.

According to the affidavit filed by Betty Lambuth, one of the Northrop Grumman contractors, the e-mails contain information about a variety Clinton administration controversies, including the Monica Lewinsky affair, the White House request for FBI files, and Vice President Al Gore's involvement in campaign fundraising.

Rep. Burton wrote to Judge Lamberth this week, asking him to "secure the integrity of all White House e-mails that have not yet been reviewed. Furthermore, I request that you take all steps available to you to guarantee that these government records are preserved, as required by the Presidential Records Act."

Burton's spokesman Mark Corallo told CNSNews.com that when the computer contractors did a search of the e-mails in 1998 and entered the name Monica Lewinsky "they described to us as finding three reams worth of e-mails just from Monica that she had written to people in the White House." By this time Lewinsky was no longer employed by the White House and had moved to the Pentagon.

"It was certainly a legitimate computer screw-up, and these people find it and it is 1998, the year of Monica Lewinsky, and they go to their White House bosses and tell them there are a couple hundred thousand e-mails out there," said Corallo. "Two things have to be done with the e-mails: One, they have to be archived; that is required by law. Two, you have all these subpoenas out there and they have to be searched for the information being asked."

Bob Koch, Northrop Grumman director of corporate communications, reiterated the company's official statement on the controversy, referring all other questions to the White House.

Koch told CNSNews.com, "The company is under contract to provide technical support to the White House. In the course of these activities, Northrop Grumman employees at the White House discovered a technical flaw in the automated records management system. They immediately reported this to the White House. Northrop Grumman continues to fulfill our contractual requirements to the White House."

CNSNews.com Staff Writer Ben Anderson also contributed to this story.