Talking Points: Building an Empire

The White House and the RNC may have violated federal law by opening up unprecedented lines of communications.

“If there’s one empire I want built, it’s the George Bush empire,” said former Bush advisor and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman in 2005 [One-Party Country, p. 102]. In its effort to spawn this empire in the federal government, the White House and the RNC have opened up unprecedented lines of communications and have potentially violated federal law in doing so. In a recent investigation into the Bush administration’s use and destruction of emails from RNC accounts, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) found there may be “extensive” violations of the Presidential Records Act, which stipulates that the president take “all steps as may be necessary to assure” that the activities of the White House “are adequately documented.” “This should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who values open government and the preservation of an accurate historical record,” said Waxman. Also under investigation is the White House’s violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political use of federal government property. The Oversight Committee uncovered serious abuses of both laws in order for the White House to secure electoral victories.

  • Evidence continues to surface of the White House’s systematic politicization of federal agencies. In her deposition before the committee, Ralston said that Rove’s PowerPoint presentation, which briefed federal agency employees on how to secure GOP electoral victories, was a “regular occurrence.” During his first few years in office, Ralston stated that “[Rove] gave it, possibly, at least once to each of the…major Cabinet agencies.” Ralston said that Rove was involved in the editing of the presentation prior to its delivery and “sometimes…got information from the RNC” to create the presentations. She stated that the formation and drafts of the PowerPoint presentation was “always done” on political email accounts, despite the presentation originating from the White House Office of Political Affairs. Ralston also confirmed that the PowerPoints were “more frequent[ly]” given prior to major elections, “laying out their best estimate of how races might fall, what the target states are,” suggesting overtly partisan motives. The Office of Special Counsel, which earlier found General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan violated the Hatch Act by allowing one such political briefing to take place at her agency, is now expanding its investigation to cover nearly 20 administration agencies for possible Hatch Act violations.
  • The White House used federal agencies and resources for partisan gain. Several agencies contacted by the House Oversight Committee have indicated they “have preserved official communications that were destroyed by the RNC,” but others have even resisted the investigation. The White House’s attempts to inject partisan overtones into federal agencies has become a tradition in the Bush administration. In 2005, Mehlman outlined the White House’s strategy of utilizing government resources for partisan gain: “One of the things that can happen in Washington when you work in an agency is that you forget who sent you there. And it’s important to remind people that you’re George Bush people” [One Party Country, p. 102].

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.