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Keeping White House Emails

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 email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently in an effort to evade the Presidential Records Act.

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.” 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 email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently in an effort to evade the PRA. This week, the RNC informed House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) that it had destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials in 2001, 2002, and 2003. “The White House has not done a good enough job overseeing staff using political e-mail accounts to assure compliance with the Presidential Records Act,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.  As a result, Stanzel said, “we may not have preserved all e-mails that deal with White House business.”

  • The White House may have lost millions of emails sent from political accounts dealing with official business. Waxman said that RNC counsel Rob Kelner told him that the earliest email records the RNC retains are from 2004, and the Committee only has email records for 35 of the 50 White House officials that had political accounts. Moreover, Waxman said that White House officials retained the ability to delete emails from RNC accounts even after a policy was instituted in 2004 to retain the records. One government watchdog group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reported yesterday from confidential sources that the Executive Office of the President had lost over five million emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005. Even though the RNC claims it began archiving emails in 2004, the Committee said there appear to be no records from White House senior political adviser Karl Rove until 2005, leaving open “the possibility that Rove had personally deleted the missing e-mails.” According to Kelner, the Committee took action specifically and singularly against Rove in 2005 to keep him “from deleting his e-mails from the RNC server.” The automatic archive policy specifically targeted at Rove raises questions about his intent to intentionally evade compliance with the Presidential Records Act and escape accountability.

  • The credibility of the White House continues to falter on this issue. At a March 27, 2007 press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino claimed that only a “handful” of White House staffers had political email accounts. Yesterday, Perino was forced to admit that it was actually “a very large handful.” Speaking in her own defense, Perino offered, “When I said a ‘handful,’ I was asked based on something that I didn’t know.” In that same March 27 briefing, Perino also claimed the RNC had been archiving emails and that the system was “something that was in place” for years. Yesterday, amidst revelations that RNC emails had not been retained, Perino backed off that statement and said, “We have developed a better understanding of how the RNC archived or did not archive certain e-mails.” The White House’s inconsistent statements have raised questions about whether the emails did actually disappear as it claims. 


  • The PRA is very clear about the record keeping requirements for White House staff. On May 5, 1993, then-Assistant to President Clinton and Staff Secretary John Podesta wrote a memo to all presidential staff explaining that the PRA required all staff members to maintain all records, including emails. “Podesta stated that the use of external email networks was prohibited because records would not be saved as required.” CREW reports that the Bush administration has refused to make public its own record-keeping policy. Stanzel said, “We don’t share internal White House memos.” In Stanzel’s press call with reporters this week, he acknowledged that the handbook given to all White House staffers reads, “Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff. … As a result, personnel working on behalf of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] are expected to only use government-provided e-mail services for all official communication.”