The National Archives and Thomas P. Lowry: Questions, Questions

By now it should be clear to everyone that questions abound concerning the National Archives, Thomas P. Lowry, and the case of the tampered Lincoln document.

Perhaps it was just as well that while I saw a few signs of life in this story in recent weeks, it was not until yesterday that I came across Lowry’s statement (it had not been there when I had earlier visited the website).  Other bloggers had picked it up, mentioned it, and then set it back down, and the denial/explanation simply didn’t get much attention.  Yet Lowry’s statement also raises as many questions as it answers, and two issues in particular deserve attention.  That’s why I asked readers to compare the statement Lowry issued with earlier accounts of his retraction of his confession, which you can find here and here.

One commenter saw what I saw, but for the rest of you, here are two simple yet fundamental questions where the answers will go far to tell us what’s going on.

First,  Dr. Lowry states:

They [the NARA] claim that they tried to reach me and that I was “evasive.” That is simply a falsehood, a fabrication. We have been at the same address for thirteen years, with the same phone number and same e-mail address for those same thirteen years. We rarely travel. We have voice mail. Neither of us would forget a query from the National Archives. The first we knew of this “discovery” was the unannounced knock on our front door.

The NARA offered a different story, according to the Washington Post on January 25, 2011:

Investigators said they began corresponding with Lowry about the pardon about a year ago and asked for his help in identifying who might have tampered with it. During the course of the e-mail correspondence, Lowry became more reticent, and they became more suspicious.

Either there was previous contact or there was not previous contact.  By definition, the NARA could not destroy the e-mails in question, because they are also government documents.  So it’s up to the NARA to produce the e-mails.  If the NARA produces them, Dr. Lowry’s statement comes under renewed scrutiny.

Second, Dr. Lowry says:

If there was a change in the document, who made it? I don’t know. It was there when Beverly and I first opened that folder.

However, as the Washington Post reported on January 25, 2011:

His wife, Beverly, said the change was made by a former Archives staffer, a charge the agency denies.

How would Beverly Lowry know this?  How would she know it while her husband says that he doesn’t know who did it?  And, if we accept Dr. Lowry’s story at face value, and Mrs. Lowry knew who altered the document (and that it was, in fact, altered), why did the Lowrys remain silent about that?  Are you seriously going to tell me that Dr. Lowry spoke glowingly about a discovery that his wife knew to be a fraud?

Something’s not right here.

It really should be of concern to all of us as to what happened.  Whatever happened here, it’s serious.  Did a researcher tamper with records and then publicize the result, an event that drew attention to him?  Or did federal authorities act illegally in coercing a confession to cover up their own ineptitude?  After all, the NARA is under fire itself for its security measures.  A former NARA official’s home was raided.  The NARA’s own statements about this affair have raised questions which the agency seems unwilling to answer.  That’s curious, given its willingness to interview people involved with such cases.

So what we have here are two parties confronting each other, each issuing statements that they hope will be definitive, yet each of these statements continues to raise questions … and it happens to be those questions that neither party seems especially anxious to answer.

One thought on “The National Archives and Thomas P. Lowry: Questions, Questions

  1. Dick Stanley February 26, 2011 / 5:17 pm

    Another curious part of this whole deal is the idea that NARA could “coerce” Lowry into admitting something he says he didn’t do. Prosecutors sometimes “coerce” (as the defense later argues in court) confessions by browbeating suspects, accompanied by offers of future leniency in sentencing. In Lowry’s case, NARA had nothing to offer but disgrace.

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