I can't say I didn't see it coming, but really, in this day and age, there is no excuse for this.
No win situation here: either these people are hopelessly, ridiculously incompetent or they are hopelessly dishonest. Neither is a pretty picture.
Update: Really good coverage of this by The Anonymous Liberal, who is an attorney:
...if a private entity--particularly one subject to legally mandated record keeping requirements--were to inform government investigators seeking such documents that they had been "mishandled" and were now "lost," that entity would immediately find itself in a world of hurt and would be lucky if it survived the aftermath. No amount of talking would be enough to convince the authorities that there was an innocent explanation for the missing documents. They would be absolutely convinced that the "mishandled" documents were intentionally destroyed in order to cover up wrongdoing.Further update: Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post explores the matter in depth today:
Countless e-mails to and from many key White House staffers have been deleted -- lost to history and placed out of reach of congressional subpoenas -- due to a brazen violation of internal White House policy that was allowed to continue for more than six years, the White House acknowledged yesterday.Or maybe not so countless. CREW says its millions of messages destroyed:
Through two confidential sources, CREW learned that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has lost over FIVE MILLION emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005. The White House counsel’s office was advised of these problems in 2005 and CREW has been told that the White House was given a plan of action to recover these emails, but to date nothing has been done to rectify this significant loss of records.The incompetence defense is seeming less plausible today.