RNC Email Scandal, Wide Dissemination of the Debate as Campus Awaits Decision

April 14, 2007

Nothing too dramatic has happened on campus recently, and my sense is that all of the on-campus debate about this has played out — see Steve Sverdlik’s report on the Faculty Senate meeting this week. But there are a few developments of note: The author of the Faculty Senate resolution expressing thanks to those who participated in the on-campus debate has sent me her original resolution (which was heavily amended and then failed). Click here to see it — it’s a nice summary of the ebb and flow of discussion on campus. Off-campus, newspapers in the UK, South Africa, and Australia have picked up the story of the debate, running stories very similar to the recent piece in the Chicago Tribune (so similar that they ought to have given the Trib’s reporter credit). I assume that this is because the tie to the overall politics and reputation of the Bush administration is of interest, as well as the fact that as fellow former British colonies these countries have substantial Methodist churches. Third, the reverberations of the debate within the Methodist Church continue, with a frontal attack of the Institute for Religion and Democracy’s Mark Tooley launching a vehement attack on Bush Institute foe Susanne Johnson on David Horowitz’s online journal.

The controversy over the use of non-government emails by White House staffers, including Karl Rove (who has been heavily involved in the formulation of the Bush complex) has been a leading news story all week. Below I’ve put in some excerpts from and links to some of the more thoughtful coverage, which explicitly links the email scandal to the Presidential Records Act and the question of historical documentation.

Presidential Records Evasion
The Progress Report
April 13, 2007

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) — 44 U.S.C. section 2203 — reads, “Through the implementation of records management controls and other necessary actions, the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure” that the activities of the White House “are adequately documented.” Passed in 1978 by Congress to counteract Richard Nixon’s attempts to seal and destroy some of his papers, the PRA was intended to make Executive Branch leaders accountable by ensuring eventual public access to White House decision-making. In recent weeks, through the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, more evidence has come to light suggesting that senior White House officials have been using political e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently (among other reasons) in an effort to evade the PRA.

Mail Saga Gets Fishier
Dan Froomkin
The Washington Post
April 13, 2007

The saga of the missing White House e-mails took a turn from the deeply suspicious to the deeply, darkly suspicious yesterday as Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman disclosed the bizarre response by the Republican National Committee to early indications that consequential White House e-mails — particularly to and from Karl Rove — were being deleted.

From 2001 to 2004, the RNC’s highly unusual “document retention” policy was to intentionally destroy all e-mails that were more than 30 days old. In the summer of 2004, due to “unspecified legal inquiries,” the RNC changed its policy by allowing — but not mandating — the indefinite retention of e-mails sent and received by White House staffers on their RNC accounts. That was just around the time special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s investigation of White House involvement in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity was kicking into high gear.

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