House Panel Questions White House Use of E-Mail Accounts

On June 18, 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued an interim report on its investigation into 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 ’04 campaign for official White House business.

Among the reports preliminary findings were the number of White House officials given RNC e-mail accounts was higher than previously disclosed, White House officials made extensive use of their RNC e-mail accounts, and there was extensive destruction of the e-mails of White House officials by the RNC. The report also alleged that 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 federal records.

The interim report concluded that, “The evidence obtained by the Committee indicates that White House officials used their RNC e-mail accounts in a manner that circumvented these requirements. At this point in the investigation, it is not possible to determine precisely how many presidential records may have been destroyed by the RNC. Given the heavy reliance by White House officials on RNC e-mail accounts, the high rank of the White House officials involved, and the large quantity of missing e-mails, the potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive.”

Among the detailed findings were that 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts, not the “handful of officials” that was stated by White House spokesperson Dana Perino in March 2007. Of these 88 officials with RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials. For example, the RNC preserved no e-mails for former Director of Political Affairs Ken Mehlman. For many other White House officials, the RNC has no e-mails from before the fall of 2006.

The interim report also found that the president’s senior advisor Karl Rove was the most extensive user of the system. The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Rove. Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts. Despite this volume of e-mail traffic, the RNC preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Rove during the President’s first term and there are no e-mails sent by Rove prior to 2003.

In response to questions about the report, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, “Look, I can’t respond specifically to things that the committee may have put out. But those e-mail accounts were set up on a model based on the prior administration, which had done it the same way in order to try to avoid Hatch Act violations. And we’ll just leave it at that.”

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Committee Democrats had jumped to unsupported conclusions in their report on possible violations of the Presidential Records Act. The evidence, he said, simply does not support the report’s conclusions.

“Today’s Democratic Committee Report on possible violations of the Presidential Records Act strikes against many of the fundamental principles I teach my staff.

Instead of going carefully through the evidence and arriving at well-supported conclusions, the Democrats missed the mark with today’s report. We see the words “may have” eight times in a 12-page report. We see Karl Rove mentioned 42 times. We see Attorney General Alberto Gonzales dragged into this matter without any foundation whatsoever. Everything about this report overreaches and prejudges.

It also ignores the good faith efforts of the Republican National Committee and the White House to provide information, briefings and documents.”