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Talking Points: Building an Empire
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.
- The White House has consistently misled the public on the extent of its RNC email usage. On March 27, 2007, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that only a “handful” of White House officials had RNC email accounts. In April, the White House’s estimate rose to 50 staffers since 2001. In its investigation, the Oversight Committee learned that at least 88 top White House officials used RNC email accounts. These email accounts were heavily used by the administration officials for “official purposes,” such as communicating with federal agencies about federal appointments and policies. Ignoring the Presidential Records Act, the White House systematically destroyed “potentially hundreds of thousands” of emails. “One indication of the scale of the loss of White House email is the fact that the RNC has retained no email messages whatsoever for 51 of the 88 White House officials with RNC email accounts.” According to Karl Rove’s executive assistant, Susan Ralston, Mehlman used his email account “frequently, daily,” but the RNC “has not retained a single email to or from Mr. Mehlman during his period as White House Political Director.” “The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Mr. Rove during President Bush’s first term and no emails sent by Mr. Rove prior to November 2003.”
- 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].
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