Follow the e-mails
March 29, 2007
March 29, 2007 | The rise and fall of the Bush presidency has had four phases: the befuddled period of steady political decline during the president’s first nine months; the high tide of hubris from Sept. 11, 2001, through the 2004 election; the self-destructive overreaching to consolidate a one-party state from 2005 to 2006, culminating in the repudiation of the Republican Congress; and, now, the terminal stage, the great unraveling, as the Democratic Congress works to uncover the abuses of the previous six years.
The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of e-mails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon’s secret White House tapes. Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does “about 95 percent” of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What’s more, Rove doesn’t tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: “‘I don’t want my E-mail made public,’ said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. ‘It’s Yahoo!, baby,’ says a Bushie.”
The offshoring of White House records via RNC e-mails became apparent when an RNC domain, gwb43.com (referring to George W. Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of e-mails the White House gave to House and Senate committees earlier this month. Rove’s deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used gwb43.com as an e-mail domain.
When I worked in the Clinton White House, people brought in their personal computers if they were engaged in any campaign work, but all official transactions had to be done within the White House system as stipulated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978. (The PRA requires that “the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as Presidential records.”) Having forsaken the use of Executive Office of the President e-mail, executive privilege has been sacrificed. Moreover, Rove’s and the others’ practice may not be legal.
Waxman Reveals New Evidence Showing White House Use Of Political E-mail Accounts
March 29, 2007
U.S. News reported recently that several White House aides “said that they stopped using the White House system except for purely professional correspondence. … ‘We knew E-mails could be subpoenaed,’” said one aide.
In a new letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, House Government and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman reveals new e-mail communications that provide further evidence that White House employees were trying to circumvent the archives system:
New Scott Jennings E-Mails. Scott Jennings, the deputy director of political affairs in the White House, and his assistant used “gwb43.com” e-mail accounts to communicate with the General Services Administration about a partisan briefing that Mr. Jennings gave to political appointees at GSA on January 26, 2007. When Mr. Jennings’s assistant emailed the PowerPoint presentation to GSA, she wrote: “It is a close hold and we’re not supposed to be emailing it around.”
On March 29, 2007, Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to White House Counsel, Fred Fielding, inquiring about the administration’s e-mail policies:
Moreover, U.S. News & World Report reported yesterday that my letter on Monday to the RNC may be driving official White House communications even further underground. According to this report, at least two White House aides have now “bought their own private E-mail system through a cellular phone or Blackberry server” to avoid the possibilities of subpoenas. Another aide told U.S. News that he now communicates through “texting.”
The statements of White House spokesperson Dana Perino at a press briefing this week only further confused the issue. She said: “Of course, people are encouraged, on official White House business, to use their official White House accounts.” But she did not cite any specific policy or guidance issued to White House staff regarding the use of e-mail accounts and the preservation of presidential records, and she acknowledged that certain officials in the White House have been given access to political e-mail accounts. When asked if a new directive had been issued to White House staff reminding them to use their White House e-mails, she stated, “I don’t know of any new directive, but it is what we ask people to do.”
Read the entire letter here. Mr. Waxman concluded with a request for information about White House policies regarding the preservation of records, including those created on nongovernmental e-mail accounts, by April 5, 2007, and also asked for a briefing on these matters by Fielding or his representative during the week of April 2, 2007.