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Technicians have begun retrieving the first of thousands of 'lost' email messages considered the Holy Grail in a civil lawsuit brought against the Clinton Administration by conservative witch-hunt outfit Judicial Watch.

"Copying is now under way," US Army Chief Warrant Officer Terrence Misich said in Federal court on Friday. Misich, who is supervising the recovery project, said that a usable database would be ready within four to six weeks.

Two former White House computer consultants testified Friday that the lost messages could have been recovered months ago if the White House had simply tried, with a modicum of sincerity, to get them.

The Clintonites' reluctance to correct the problem has been taken to mean that they have something to hide.

US District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is hearing the suit, had said on Thursday that he would begin a special round of hearings to determine the best way to restore and search the missing email. He indicated that he was considering appointment of a special master to supervise the job.

The judge then scheduled more pre-trial testimony on Friday to determine the best way to retrieve and organise the lost messages.

Earlier this year the White House claimed that thousands of email messages, including some from Presidential hopeful Al Gore's office, had been lost to a 'computer glitch'. The messages were therefore not reviewed by White House lawyers to determine whether or not they should be turned over to investigators. Suspicions that the emails are in some way damning have been irrepressible ever since. ®

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