A White House committee says George Bush’s officials “circumvented” official e-mail systems and as a result created a hole in official presidential records.
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The Oversight Committee has been investigating whether White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act by using e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Bush Cheney 2004 campaign for official White House communications.
The Oversight Committee says the number of White House officials given RNC e-mail accounts is higher than previously disclosed.
In March 2007, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that only a “handful of officials” had RNC e-mail accounts. In later statements, her estimate rose to “50 over the course of the administration”.
In fact, the Committee has learned from the RNC that at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts. The officials with RNC e-mail accounts included Karl Rove, the president’s senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House chief of staff; and Ken Mehlman, the former White House director of political affairs, among others.
White House officials made extensive use of their RNC e-mail accounts. The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Karl Rove.
Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts.
But there has been “extensive destruction of e-mails of White House officials by the RNC”, said the Committee.
Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials.
In addition, there are major gaps in the e-mail records of the 37 White House officials for whom the RNC did preserve e-mails.
The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Rove during president Bush’s first term, and no e-mails sent by Rove prior to November 2003. For many other White House officials, the RNC has no e-mails from before the fall of 2006.
The Committee said there is evidence that the Office of White House Counsel under Alberto Gonzales may have known that White House officials were using RNC e-mail accounts for official business but took no action to preserve these presidential records.
The Presidential Records Act requires the president to “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 maintained as presidential records.”
To implement this legal requirement, the White House Counsel issued clear written policies in February 2001 instructing White House staff to use only the official White House e-mail system for official communications.
The Committee said that White House officials used their RNC email accounts “in a manner that circumvented these requirements”.
The Committee is now considering what further action should be taken in the affair.
Guardian story on RNC e-mails >>