Mother Jones reports that the White House has settled a lawsuit with CREW and the National Security Archive, and in turn will attempt to restore 91 days of White House emails thought to be lost from the days of the Bush Administration:

The Obama administration and two nonprofits have reached a wide-ranging legal settlement in their legal battle over millions of missing Bush-era White House emails, the three parties announced Monday. The agreement—first reported by Mother Jones on Friday—is a major victory for the plaintiffs, who sued in October 2007 to force the recovery of missing email, find out how emails were lost, and prevent the problem from happening again.

Under the settlement with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive, the Obama administration has promised to restore 91 separate calendar days worth of emails. Any messages that are recovered could potentially shed light on controversies such as the lead-up to the Iraq war and the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity.

“Once the Obama administration figured out what a mess had been left behind in the server room, and that they didn’t want to be protecting the last administration’s bad practices, that helped them get to where they are now,” says Meredith Fuchs, the general counsel for the National Security archive.

In perhaps the biggest win for the plaintiffs, the restoration effort will not be limited to the records that were the subject of the lawsuit. The Obama administration will also attempt to recover presidential records—including those from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney—that the court had ruled the plaintiffs had no legal standing to sue over.

There are some pitfalls here – Congress needs to appropriate more money for the data recovery – but the settlement has requirements to restore missing White House emails on specific days. In particular, the period from September 30-October 5, 2003, which were subpoenaed by Pat Fitzgerald during the CIA Leak Investigation. Over time, the cover-up of these emails could lead to renewed calls to restore all of the missing messages from the Bush Administration.

The Obama Administration has set standards in place that would maintain proper archiving and transparency, but this is a rare case where they are seeking not to cover up the mistakes of the previous Administration.

UPDATE: Norm Eisen, the special counsel to the White House for ethics and government reform, details the settlement in a blog post on the White House website.

First a little background. The missing email problem was first identified in 2005, when the Office of Administration conducted an internal analysis suggesting that millions of emails from the Executive Office of the President (“EOP”), created between March 2003 and October 2005, might be missing. Approximately two years later, in September 2007, the National Security Archive (“NSA”) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (“CREW”) filed lawsuits against the EOP and the National Archives seeking to recover any missing emails. The litigation continued for over a year, and involved numerous motions and other courtroom fights […]

Today, the White House is pleased to announce that the parties have reached an agreement to settle the pending lawsuits. As part of the agreement, the White House will restore millions of emails from back-up tapes related to at least 33 different days during the Bush Administration. The millions of restored emails will be transferred to the National Archives. They eventually will be made available to historians, students, and the general public under laws providing for the release of such documents from prior administrations.

The President is firmly committed to ensuring that the records of this Administration—as well as those of all previous administrations—are properly retained and preserved. We are pleased to see this matter reach an amicable resolution. We thank the EOP’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Justice Department for helping us resolve this case and ensure the preservation of this Administration’s emails. Also, we especially want to thank CREW and NSA for their hard work with us in bringing the case to a successful conclusion and in promoting openness in government.

David Dayen

David Dayen